Magnolia Pictures // 2010 // 83 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 17th, 2011
Careful where you tread.
Some films, especially first films, are often love letters to the cinema. They're usually not explicitly about filmmaking per se, but show a deep knowledge and appreciation of all that cinema can do. Jean Luc Godard's Breathless comes immediately to mind. It's ostensibly about the last day of a petty criminal, but really it's about how tough guys and their loves have been portrayed throughout cinematic history. It's a stretch to call Rubber as groundbreaking a feature as Breathless, but it too is an effervescent exploration of the possibilities of cinema. Whereas Breathless took on the crime picture, Rubber (Blu-ray) sets its sights on the slasher genre and gives audiences a film that satisfies as a horror and as a meditation on horror films.
Robert, an old tire, comes to life in the desert. Once he realizes he can roll around, he discovers he has the psychic ability to blow things up. When a beautiful young girl (Roxane Mequida, Fat Girl) passes him on a lonely road, Robert is smitten, and will destroy anyone who tries to get between him and the girl.
I was completely skeptical that Rubber would make a good film. When a friend showed me the trailer, I thought it was brilliant (and was unsurprised when the clever little thing seemed to go viral), but spoofing slasher conventions with a tire instead of a masked madman does not a 90-minute feature film make. Much like Machete, I was worried that there was no way the full-length film could live up to the promise of the trailer. With Rubber, I'm glad I was proved wrong.
If Rubber was simply a rehash of slasher conventions with a tire instead of a masked killer, the film would get no love from me. Instead, Rubber opens with a fourth-wall breaking monologue by a police officer telling the audience that every great film has some inexplicable element (like the fact that we never see anyone go to the bathroom in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and that element exists for "no reason." We're then told that the film is an homage to "no reason." We imagine that the officer is talking to us, the audience, but we discover that instead, there are a number of spectators within the film who are going to watch it unfold (through binoculars, naturally). What transpires is that the officer is seemingly in charge of orchestrating the performances of everyone for the benefit of the spectators. The rest of the film focuses on Robert's attempts to follow the girl and one spectator's (Wings Hauser!) attempt to get his money's worth out of the film.
What sounds utterly ridiculous and convoluted on paper comes off and brilliant and effortless on the screen. Director Quentin Dupieux weaves the story of Robert and the story of watching Robert together seamlessly. This move allows him to film some genuine moments of slasher-style horror (with some nods to the exploding heads of Scanners), but comment on their absurdity with characters like the one played by Wings Hauser. The film's trailer prepared me for a short film (I mean, c'mon, how long can a film about a sentient tire last, right?), but Rubber merely feels short at 83 minutes, whizzing by on the odd mixture of lowbrow horror and highbrow meta-cinematic commentary.
Even when Rubber seems to wobble (as we watch its main character do several times throughout the film in longish silent-movie style scenes), Dupieux's eye for the desert and its textures keep the film interesting to look at. Utilizing lots of shallow depth of field to give the whole thing a hazy, dreamy look, Rubber is always visually fascinating. Not only is the desert good looking in front of Dupieux's camera, but the man knows how to go for the gore. There are a number of exploding body parts (human and otherwise), and the red stuff drenches the dry desert floor with enough regularity to please gorehounds.
Filmed in HD, Rubber looks pretty solid on Blu-ray, especially for a
lower budget film. This AVC encoded transfer has some strong detail for the most
part, and the slightly washed-out colors are appropriate to the film's desert
settings. Some light artefacting crops up here and there, but overall this is a
solid transfer. The 5.1 DTS-HD is similarly strong. It's not a reference quality
track, but the dialogue comes through clearly with appropriate balance. The
surrounds are mainly used for atmosphere and the film's excellent use of
Extras mainly consist of interviews with the cast/crew. We get short (less than 10 minutes) talks with Dupieux, Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, and Roxane Mesquida. We also get a short camera test, and an HDNet promo for the film, in addition to the film's trailer. Wings Hauser's absence in the extras is sorely felt.
My expectations for Rubber were low, knowing that a great trailer does not often make a great film (and often quite the opposite). Those with high expectations of a 90-minute tire-style slasher film might be disappointed with the end results of Rubber, which is much more cerebral than schlocky. Certainly criticism has been leveled that the film is simply a one-joke movie with nothing to sustain its running time, and those with no patience for the slasher-fueled imagery might tire (ha!) quickly of the joke. The film also features exploding heads a plenty, so those with weak stomachs or no taste for gore should also give Rubber a bit of room.
Rubber is likely to be a divisive film. I'm sure its trailer piqued a lot of people's curiosity while making the rounds, and no one could be blamed for wanting to see the film after that sweet trailer. Sadly, this is one of those times where a critic's opinion is only slightly useful. I think that Rubber is a brilliant mediation on the slasher film, and darn funny/scary to boot. However, I suspect that more than usual that individual tastes will vary widely. So, despite the strong Blu-ray disc, it's probably best to give Rubber a rental before buying to see if it's to your taste or not.
Although Robert might not approve, I suggest burning rubber to get to this film. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Camera Tests