There's a new tire in town, and he's out for blood. That's the premise of Rubber, a conceptual horror comedy by French musician Quentin Dupieux about a psycho killer tire on the loose in the California desert. More a deadpan art provocation than a real movie, Rubber is spun out like a musical theme through a series of variations.
Though it's undoubtedly ingenious, for such a clever movie, it's a shame Rubber couldn't be more fun.
The notion of inanimate objects that kill is commonplace in the horror genre. A few examples include Tobe Hooper's The Mangler (1973), based on a Stephen King story about a killer laundry press, John Carpenter's Christine (based on King's novel about a killer car), Killer Tomatoes and Deathbed: The Bed That Eats, as well as innumerable dolls, puppets, trees and angry homes that populate the genre.
Rubber, though, is not a film to follow in any other movie's treads. This particular tire, while free from its axle, is apparently carrying a large weight of political baggage, including the violence of capitalism (it's trash come to life) and the politics of film viewing. There is, in the film, an audience of about a dozen people watching the story unfold through binoculars, and offering a running a commentary on the action. There's also a goofy patrolman (Stephen Spinella) who explains his theory that movies are built on "no reason."
His examples include ones that make sense (Why is E.T. brown? No reason.) and others that don't (Why does Adrien Brody's character need to hide from Nazis in The Pianist? No reason). In short, it's an irrational defense of irrationality.
We first meet the tire of terror, named Robert in the credits (the French pronunciation works better), when he pulls himself up from the desert dust, and begins to wobble about amidst other trash. He crushes a can, then breaks a bottle and a scorpion. When he sees (senses?) a bunny, he trembles violently until he causes the animal to explode.
The onscreen audience watches from a distance. "Telepathic," says one. "Psycho-kinetic" another offers by way of correction. Clearly, they're beginning to groove. Later, the onscreen audience's interest picks up when the tire heads to a remote motel, and peeks at a pretty traveller (Roxanne Mesquida) as she disrobes and showers.
The motel has a parental drama going on: There's a bright, sensitive kid (Remy Thorne) and his jerky father (Dave Bowe), who stand in for all those horror-film families where tensions explode in displaced violence. But the dysfunction ripples out and the relationship between the movie actors and the spectators grows increasingly complicated.
There's some poisoned food offered to the consumer audience by the film crew's nerdy accountant (Jack Plotnick). But he's unable to stop all the spectators from influencing the action in the film. One spectator (Wings Hauser), with special insight into rolling behaviour, even shows up on set to suggest a rewrite.
As it never fails to remind us, Rubber is all about complicity and the burden of seeing. At one point, our vulcanized vigilante stands in front of a mirror and experiences a form of cinematic self-consciousness: A memory montage, a traumatic flashback to a tire-dump fire.
By the time the Hollywood sign appears on the horizon, the satire sags under its didactic weight. In a movie this self-reflexive, the deflation may even be intentional: Long before the allegorical ride is over, Rubber is, basically, just kind of tiresome.
- Written and directed by Quentin Dupieux
- Starring Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick and Wings Hauser
- Classification: 14A