Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Rubber

There is always the danger of being too cute, too obvious, and too smug when filmmakers get all meta and attempt a commentary on the medium. 2010's RUBBER suffers all of these sins and is just all around too much in love with itself to really succeed in its modest goal: taking the genre of horror films (and its fans) to task.  Actually, you could argue that its targets are all genres and all who spend time watching movies, since the entire pursuit is meaningless anyway, no?  What to make of a film that opens with a sheriff climbing out of a car trunk, explaining why movies as diverse as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE PIANIST are filled with head scratching elements (or omissions) - "There is no reason"?

In case you might think the sheriff's examples are clever, erudite, or interesting, think again.  Here's one: "Why isn't anyone in MASSACRE ever seen going to the bathroom?"  Another: "Why is Speilberg's E.T. alien brown"?

Believing that you really are soooo clever would work if, yes, you really were.  Writer/director Quentin Dupieux does manage some astute moments in his film, which centers on an old tire that emerges from the dirt and goes on a killing spree after it discovers it can cause people's heads to explode via psychokinetic powers.  It sounds like something Stephen King may have concocted while he was high.  His ideas for MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE are freaking genius by comparison.   If RUBBER had merely been about the tire (credited onscreen as "Robert") and its swath of death through the California desert we may have had a real trash classic, a guilty pleasure.  The film could've infused its observations simply through subversion of genre cliches, like John Sayles and Larry Cohen have done in the past.

But Dupieux had other plans. He may well have an ocean of contempt for horror, even as he builds some almost suspenseful scenes.  I think his points, and they are interesting, are leveled at the entire process.  In RUBBER, a disparate group stand off to the side and watch the action through binoculars, sometimes offering commentary.  Too obvious? It could've worked; Bunuel did similar things in his films.  But Dupieux's characters (including one played by B movie veteran Wings Hauser) only make vapid comments. The sheriff (Stephen Spinella) is seen throughout the film, his dialogue always alerting everyone that it's only a movie, elaborate fakery, even as headless corpses litter the streets.

Dupiuex's best scene is perhaps when the spectators, standing in the sun for days without food, are finally given a just slaughtered turkey.  They attack it like ravenously hungry zombies (the scene is framed in just that way - nice jab).  The implication of course is that they crave more cinema, more carnage, but the joke will ultimately be on them.

And perhaps you, invisible audience.  You'll either find RUBBER endlessly clever, completely ridiculous, or an embarrassing attempt at satire.  It is in fact all three.

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