“Rubberneck” is a very smart thriller. It will surprise fans of Alex Karpovsky (HBO’s “Girls) who have only known his comedic work. This is darker than you might expect too. Except for a few brief moments to indicate that his character, Paul Harris, has a sense of humor, we find here a slow-burn character study of a very troubled person. Everyone is hip to the obvious funny man going dark ploy which is not a problem here. You certainly don’t get that scary clown creepiness. This is a thoughtful low-key kind of scary.
Good mental health involves accepting yourself and the world around you. For Paul Harris, that proves impossible. The disconnect is so severe that it is only a matter of time before something goes horribly wrong. The script, co-written by Alex Karpovsky and Garth Donovan, brings this out with just the right amount of understatement. Paul Harris does not become the Other to the audience. He doesn’t lose his humanity, utterly and completely, even though he ultimately crosses a line. You can view Paul Harris as something close to the character, Alex Forrest, played by Glenn Close, in Adrian Lyne’s “Fatal Attraction” (1987). But it adds up very differently. More like the enigmatic work of Michael Haneke.
We begin with a holiday office party. Paul chats up a new co-worker, Danielle, played by Jaime Ray Newman. They joke around about the other scientists at the lab and end up in bed. When Paul tries to date Danielle, he is rebuffed. Months pass and he can’t let that go. He cherishes the occaisonal crumbs of office banter he gets to share with her. All that changes when Danielle strikes up a friendship with another co-worker, Chris, played by Dennis Staroselsky.
There are very few connections for poor Paul to rely on. He has his sister, played by Amanda Good Hennessey. And, in an interesting twist, a sex worker, played by Dakota Shepard. Both women show him as much kindness and understanding as they can. But Paul’s inner turmoil goes much deeper than his fragile support system can handle.
Many key scenes are filmed in an actual sceintific laboratory which provides that extra layer of atmospheric realism to the film’s raw and voyeuristic aesthetic. Once we settle into the premise of Paul knowing far more than he should know and not emotinally equipped to handle it, every test tube, Bunsen burner and lab coat will potentially scare you. The melancholic and eerie score by James Lavino, used sparingly and to great effect, rounds out the dramatic tension.
This is a thinking person’s thriller with no easy answers. Paul is not an easy Other to dismiss. He is too much a product of what we all consume and, in his case, that proves too much to bear.
“Rubberneck” is the offbeat thriller you’ve been looking for. It is available on VOD starting February 19. It is in select theatrical release as of February 22: New York: February 22 at Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center; Boston: March 1 at Brattle Theater.
Visit the official “Rubberneck” site here.
Watch a clip from “Rubberneck courtesy of Tribeca Film here.