First published by Sight & Sound, December 2016
Review: “Don’t be scared,” says an unseen Margot down the phone to her work colleague Renee (Noomi Rapace). They are meeting later that weekend, hoping to confront their fears and have a transformative experience on a skydiving trip. In fact, Renee – an independent, resourceful divorcee bringing up her teen son Evan (Percy Hynes-White) almost entirely by herself – seems pretty fearless. The opening sequence of Rupture, however, reveals her Achilles’ heel, as we see her reduced to near catatonic terror by a spider in the bathroom. The sense of anxiety is increased not only by Nathan Larson’s creepily shrill score, or by the background radio discussion of environmental damage and global warming, but also by an occasional shift to high-angle black-and-white shots of the house’s interiors, via hidden, intradiegetic camera. We are not the only ones observing Renee and Evan.
After dropping Evan off at his father’s, Renee is abducted, and finds herself prisoner in a squalid, red-lit facility (with wallpaper borrowed from the distinctive carpet pattern in The Shining). There, a team of researchers is conducting strange medical experiments on her and several other captives, hoping to induce in their patients an effect known as ‘rupture’. As Renee struggles to escape her bonds and to get back home to her beloved Evan, Rupture plays out mostly like a mystery, although there are also elements of horror: in particular, the chained-up women (and men) familiar from ‘torture porn’, as well as enough sneaking around corridors and creeping through crawlspaces to feel like lazy genre padding – even if Renee does witness, in passing, scenes that form an explanatory mosaic of what is going on.
Fear, too, is key here, as a medium and mechanism for change. Renee’s spooky, over-intimate captors keep insisting that they are not forcing her to do anything, but want her to act of her own free will, in the interests of creating a better Renee – and a better world. Yet the sedatives keeping Renee docile, and the neck brace, wrist bands and leg straps attaching Renee to a stretcher in a locked room, tell a different story about coercion and oppression. The strange, tactile people running the facility claim that they are benevolent (r)evolutionaries trying to save humanity both from itself and from a polluted, war-driven future, and yet they operate through terror and their own special version of Room 101 – and like Orwell’s Big Brother, they are always watching. No stranger to women in bondage after Secretary (2002), director/co-writer Steven Shainberg uses sci-fi and body horror to explore the way that hubris and callousness towards others remain indelible parts of the human genome, and that fascism is rarely alien to utopia. Meanwhile Rapace riffs off her rôle in Prometheus (2012) as mother once again to something horrifyingly new, and carries this film along through sheer determination even when it seems like a great idea for a short that has been punishingly mutated into feature length.
Synopsis: Kansas City, Missouri, present day. Arachnophobic single mother Renee drops her son Evan off with her ex for the weekend. She is then abducted by the same people who have been observing her and Evan in their home via hidden cameras. Renee wakes in a facility, bound to a trolley, and is rolled to a cell. There, she is questioned by Dianne, Dr Raxlen and others about her vital statistics and her life. They indicate that she has been chosen for a genetic predisposition. Communicating through an air vent, fellow captive Blake tells her that prisoners are made to face terrifying things, and that her predecessor was eventually allowed to go free.
In her first trial, a poisonous spider is placed on Renee’s arm, but removed when Renee is deemed not to have reacted as desired. Using a wirecutter hidden in her pocket, Renee cuts her bonds, and crawls through the air vents witnessing other prisoners’ traumatising treatments. Sneaking about the facility, Renee realises that she needs a special electronic wristband to open security doors. She also sees that the staff disguise their three-pupiled eyes behind contact lenses. Renee overpowers Dianne for her wristband, but is caught by the others (who have known of her partial escape all along). When a spider mask is placed over her face, Renee mutates, and is told she is the first fertile member of an evolved human superrace. Back at home, when the others come for Evan too, she helps her son escape.
© Anton Bitel