An accountant, checking his watch while struggling to maintain his grips on a plethora of binoculars. An empty desert road dotted with black wooden chairs, staggered about at odd angles. An unmarked cop car approaches up the road, absurdly swerving to and fro in a successful effort to strike each chair as it drives toward the camera. The trunk pops, and out climbs Lieutenant Chad, our compatriot to the events of Rubber, the unique and fascinating 2010 film from writer/director Quentin Dupieux. With his new film Wrong slated for limited theatrical release this Friday from Drafthouse Films (the releasing arm of the Alamo Drafthouse), it seemed the perfect time to revisit this absurdist tale of a homicidal tire with psychokinetic powers.
Before we can get their though, it all starts with Lieutenant Chad, who resides in both the world of the film, and the forth walk breaking reality of the spectators. These spectators are a stand in for we the audience. They take the binoculars from the accountant and observe the main plot of Robert the tire unfolding in the valley below them. As the primary plot progresses, the film flashes back to the spectators for their commentary, which works as flavor text and amounts to amusing satire on the film consumption experience (and perhaps our voyeuristic nature). Lieutenant Chad exists as part of the primary plot but is also aware of his role in the that fiction.
He kicks off the film by delivering what has become my favorite opening monologue in all of cinema. He references E.T., JFK, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Pianist, in a masterfully delivered slice of scene. Actor Stephen Spinella is spectacular in establishing the the tone of the film, whilst simultaneously excusing and explaining the its eccentric nature. The two time Tony Award winner is given license to gleefully enjoy this existence and I really wish he'd dabble more in horror or black comedy. His casting makes total sense once you notice that Rubber resembles musical theater in it's meta-realistic nature.
For those of you following along at home whose shtick is not absurdist black comedy, don't dismiss Rubber just yet. After all, this is still the tale of a sentient tire who posses psychokinetic abilities, which he uses most often to explode the organic creatures he encounters. The effect is lifted straight out of Scanners, with Robert the Tire intensely vibrating (to the eerie sound of cicadas), until the subject's head explodes in glorious gory fashion. People, animals, even glass bottles all fall to Robert's unique ability. The core film is a slasher, replete with a girl the killer is obsessed with (sexy French actress Roxanne Mesquida).
The cinematography is gorgeous, absolutely stunning. It has to be, given that a solid portion of the film is spent with an silent tire rolling through desert vistas. Quentin Dupieux utilizes verticality to great effect, with plenty of low camera angles transitioning to wide shots. If you look him up on IMDB, you'll notice he's pictured wearing knee pads; all of the tire work was done by hand as practical effects. One interesting shot (of the tire viewing his reflection in a mirror) even appears to be animated in the style of the old holiday claymation specials (though it's just a trick of light and shadows). Cinema buffs will find themselves trying to puzzle out how each tire shot was executed.
Genre fans should love extended time with Wings Hauser, who plays the wheel chair bound, survivalist spectator. I should probably put together a Shock-O-Rama guide for those scratching their heads at the name. For now, those interested in exploring just who exactly this Wings Hauser fella is, check out: Deadly Force, Mutant, and especially Vice Squad.
The "No Reason" philosophy built into Rubber might turn some off, but those who stick it out will find an enjoyable, madcap, absurdist experience, quite different than anything else out there. Horror fans (and cinema fans too) hem and haw so often, demanding more original films. Sometimes I don't think they mean it. They just want to say it and be heard saying it. Here's something new, give it a go. At the very least the opening monologue should enrapture you enough to hang out with Rubber for a bit.
If you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.