Movie Review: The Bunny Game
Laurie Strode. Ellen Ripley. Nancy Thompson.
Many of the great horror movies are great precisely for the heroines whom audiences can identify with and root for. And it’s almost always better to have a heroine rise up to defeat pure evil much more so than a male hero. Even more, it’s the rare horror movie that successfully subverts the heroine’s role, such as Marion Crane being killed just when we realize we are even watching a horror movie at all.
The nameless prostitute (Rodleen Getsic) at the center of Adam Rehmeier’s The Bunny Game subverts the heroine’s role in entirely different ways. First of all, she’s a prostitute, not the typical chaste leading lady we are to expect. When we first see her, she is being debased and dominated by an overly aggressive client in graphic detail, in a way not unlike one might see in an amateur adult video.
This set-up tells the audience two things: One, that what we are going to be seeing throughout the rest of the film is not going to be faked through creative camera angles or special effects. And, two, that the film’s plot will be conveyed mostly through pure visuals, not dialogue.
There are no backstories to be told in this film. No explanations and no exposition to tell us how the characters have come to be in their situation in life. We know them solely how they are in the present without justification or reason.
And thus, we know the prostitute is a victim, doing tricks mainly to maintain her drug habit. There is no past nor future for her, except for one brutal sexual act after another — including one john played by Norwood Fisher of the band Fishbone who robs her after he’s had his way with her.
This, of course, leads her to the ultimate act in humiliation, debasement and torture. If all men treat her brutally, then how bad can a burly, imposing trucker (Jeff F. Renfro) who picks her up by the side of the road be than the others? Plenty as we come to experience.
The reason to have a strong heroine in a horror flick is that she vicariously provides the audience with its cathartic releases. Her tiny triumphs to escape the boogeyman’s clutches until her final, ultimate escape allows us to feel that, yes, we too can escape pure evil when we encounter it.
When the trucker chains the prostitute up in the back of his semi, hauling her out into the middle of the desert to have his way with her, we are prepared that after a few horrific S&M scenes she will begin to rise above her situation, start figuring out how to outfox her attacker and plan her escape out into a better world than the one she’s been abducted from.
It soon begins to dawn on us that there will be no fighting back, there will be no outfoxing, there will be no negotiation and there will be no release. Further, the abuse hurled at Getsic — and another girl (Drettie Page) in flashback — by Renfro is terrifyingly real. She is bound and gagged, suffocated, molested, shaved and branded and more for real.
In that, however, The Bunny Game becomes more performance art than horror movie. Is the endurance test that actress Getsic is put through for her own benefit or the audience’s? Perhaps a bit of both, but it appears that Rehmeier and his actors have decided to explore the depths to which they’ll go for their art for whatever reason they’ve decided.
The audience is treated a bit kinder than Getsic as Rehmeier builds several distancing techniques to continually make us aware that we are watching a film that has been scripted and planned out. The film is, after all, in black and white, precluding any pretense that what we are watching is a found object. Not that Rehmeier presents any of his material in the phony “found footage” genre anyway. The film is heavily edited with several extended rapid fire sequences that heighten the audience’s sense of disorientation, which puts us somewhat into the prostitute’s mindset of being repeatedly assaulted physically and psychologically for what appears to be days on end.
Just as there’s no emotional negotiation going on between victim and attacker in The Bunny Game, there is no similar negotiation between film and viewer like there is with horror films with a strong heroine. The film becomes frightening not because of manufactured scares, but out of a sense of wondering how far filmmaker and actors are going to push themselves. It is not the prostitute we end up fearing for, but Getsic herself.