White Rabbit exceeded my expectations

by Nav Qateel

Harlon, a bullied and awkward high-school kid, goes from one disappointment to the next. He has one friend in the whole world, Steve (Ryan Lee), and his only two pleasures are shooting at targets with his rifle and losing himself in comic books. Harlon (played by Nick Krause) finally meets a kindred spirit in the shape of the beautiful and crazy Julie (Brit Robertson). But something goes wrong, finally pushing him over the edge, leading him to do the unthinkable.

Penned by first-time writer Anthony Di Pietro and directed/edited by Tim McCann, the psychological-drama White Rabbit, at its simplest, is an examination of nature versus nurture. We follow young Harlon on his journey of self discovery, where the outcome is as shocking as it is inevitable. But our interest is in trying to understand just how it got to the eventual state of affairs for the underprivileged kid.

We begin when Harlon is a young boy being taken on his very first hunt by dad Darrell (Sam Trammell) and his older brother. Harlon eventually tracks down a white rabbit, and is reluctantly pushed by his father into shooting it. This image will haunt Harlon his entire life, however, don’t be expecting anything in the tone of Richard Kelly’s masterpiece Donnie Darko.

White Rabbit
Directed by
Tim McCann
Nick Krause, Sam Trammell, Britt Robertson, Ryan Lee
Release Date
Out Now
Nav’s Grade: B+

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Harlon is now in the 11th grade and being relentlessly picked on and knocked about by Dayton (Zac Waggener), with his big brother away in the army leaving only he and his sister. His father is a drunk and drug addict and his mother is fighting an uphill battle trying her best to keep the family ticking over. With his mind beginning to slip and to help him escape the drudgery, Harlon is having unhealthy two-way conversations with the characters in his comic books and what they’re nudging him towards doing is becoming increasingly disturbing.

Nick Krause (Boyhood) puts in a fantastic turn in his lead role as the withdrawn and missunderstood Harlon. The character could so easily have been overplayed, especially a character losing his sanity, but Krause never faltered, keeping our feelings towards Harlon in check and relatively neutral. This is a character we’re supposed to make our own mind up about, without any leading from the director, and to that end he certainly succeeded. We get to watch Harlon morph from a quiet young man, who may or may not have learning difficulties, into everyone’s worst nightmare. It’s no wonder Nick Krause won Best Actor at this year’s Boston Film Festival, with Best Supporting Actor going to Sam Trammell and Best Supporting Actress to Britt Robertson.

I enjoyed watching the lovely Britt Robertson own each scene she was in when she breezed through, playing the carefree Julie. Her character was clearly far more complex than there was time to explore, but even the all-too-brief encounters with Harlon helped shine the occasional light into this dark film. The timing of Julie’s appearance was perfect and without this character White Rabbit could have been a different film entirely.

True Blood‘s Sam Trammell as Darrell, the junkie dad with questionable parenting skills, also got to flex some acting muscle. Darrell is a character we can occasionally sympathise with but his early and poor judgement calls as a father played a significant role in shaping the boy. Trying to decide just how much blame to lay at Darrell’s feet was actually an interesting exercise, with too many variables. If Darrell hadn’t given him a rifle. If he didn’t keep calling him “stupid” when he was very young. If there was no bullying would Harlon’s grades have improved? etc. Unfortunately, to talk more about the story and my theories would mean giving away clues to the film’s twists and surprises, and that’s something I refuse to do. Suffice to say you’ll just need to watch it for yourself.

The production values and quality of cast belie the paltry $2 million budget of the movie. White Rabbit was a film that exceeded my expectations, and while it may not have quite reached the lofty heights director Tim McCann and writer Anthony Di Pietro were aiming for, it was damned close. Not to be missed.