White Rabbit (2013)

It’s been about sixteen-years since the devastating Columbine High School massacre in Colorado shocked the world, claiming the lives of twelve students and one teacher, back in April 1999. Despite the topical nature of the tragedy — there are many different theories on the subject — psychologists aren’t any closer to understanding what actually goes through the mind of a teenager who lashes out at the world around them with horrific acts of violence. Just like Gus Van Sant’s similarly themed Elephant (2003), White Rabbit is the next cinematic venture that attempts to explore the troubling psyche of a damaged teen dealing with a mental illness.

The teen subject here is Harlon Mackey (Nick Krause), a fragile boy whose abusive drunken father, Darrell (Sam Trammell), takes him hunting at an early age and forces him to shoot an innocent white rabbit — a figure that’s too overtly symbolic if you ask me. With this ordeal haunting Harlon through childhood, its established that he develops some kind of undiagnosed schizophrenic illness, particularly as he begins to hear voices and see visions from the dark violent comic books that he reads. This is further compounded when Harlon becomes a target for school bullies and is picked on while at high school, with his only friend being an emotionally frail boy named Steve Eastman (Ryan Lee). Harlon eventually finds temporary solace after meeting a rebellious new girl, Julie (Britt Robertson), who is oddly drawn to his dull personality and bleak outlook, later following Harlon to an abandoned factory, even though he takes his rifle along with him … um really? However, after romantic disappointment and heartbreak, and the death of a friend, the bloodied white rabbit — along with the other characters in his head — taunt Harlon into committing one final act of vengeance and urge him to give into his murderous impulses.

'Don't call me Emo!'
‘Don’t call me Emo!’

Directed by Tim McCann, Nowhere Man (2005), White Rabbit is riddled with clichés and underdeveloped stereotypes and merely presents a stock portrait of a good child gone sour, one that fails to tackle the deeper elements of his fractured psyche. McCann isn’t solely to blame for this lackluster effort as the screenplay by Anthony Di Pietro is laden with hackneyed ideas and incomprehensible character beats — several leads turn to religion without any grounding in the third act — as this bleak drama only offers a empty one-dimensional look into the life of a teen with a mental disorder. Instead of exploring different ideas about America’s gun culture or the inherit evil inbuilt within certain people, our central character, Harlon, is put through a barrage of foreseeable traumatic experiences — his dad calls him ‘retarded,’ he is held back a grade in school and is picked on by his siblings and the school jock, Thomas Dayton (Zac Waggener) — incidents that, without solid support, would push any impressionable kid into dark territory. While the overall production design by Nate Jones, Hell Baby (2013), is generally okay, the flick is bogged down by its many conventional elements. The actual ‘white rabbit’ — voiced by Todd McLaren — works as a symbol of guilt but is far too figurative for its own good whilst lazy slow-motion/ blurred lens effects have been used to convey depression or Harlon’s volatile state of mind; we’ve seen it all before folks.

Although lead Nick Krause, The Descendants (2011), tries his best to convey Harlon’s gradual build-up of rage and anxiety, he falls a little short and comes across as slightly uneven, caught somewhere between caricature and melodrama. On the other hand, support players are decent and convincing, and fare much better than Krause. The gorgeous pixie Britt Robertson, The First Time (2012), breezes through her scenes as Julie — a troubled teen with a substance abuse problem — while True Blood’s (2008) Sam Trammell portrays Harlon’s drunken father Darrell with a sense of vulnerability and humanity, shifting the somewhat underwritten character away of formula. Ryan Lee, Super 8 (2011), probably delivers the picture’s best performance as Harlon’s younger friend Steve, who cries all the time — consequentially making him an easy target for bullies — bringing weight to his second tier role.

Puppy dog eyes ... works every time!
Puppy dog eyes … works every time!

Unfortunately, the film’s — to some degree — preordained climax, which is executed with tactless exploitation, feels cheap and sensationalized as schoolmates and teachers are deliberately gunned down in an overly bloody yet stylized sequence. Even the feature’s final shot, which attempts to inject some ambiguity into proceedings, sort of undermines what’s transpired earlier, leaving viewers scratching their heads instead of thinking about the picture’s terrifying subject matter. This is quite a shame given that the film does feature a handful of powerful moments. Had the picture been handled a little differently, White Rabbit could have risen above its middling results. Inevitable comparisons to Donnie Darko (2001) aside — another depressing flick about a troubled teen haunted by visions of a creepy rabbit — White Rabbit is a mediocre effort all-round, and despite director McCann’s noble intentions or the film’s solid performances, the picture fails to contribute or offer any new insight into its tough but relevant topic.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

White Rabbit is released through Breaking Glass Pictures