Some films naturally end up becoming cult films while deserving of so much more, others go that way due to their subject matter; then there are a select bunch which are clearly designed to be a cult film in a manipulative fashion. Rubber is one of these, a film with an outlandish premise, low budget, and cast of unknowns, designed and marketed to a certain type of watcher in the hope that becoming a cult film will garner a decent following and earn some moderate stacks. Some films become cult hits because they are laughably bad, others because they are brilliantly executed but badly marketed or too ahead of their time or any number of other reasons. Rubber likes to think that it is in that second category, but in reality it falls somewhere in between. It is well made, on a small budget, and it does well with its central premise – it loses its way too many times and instead becomes an increasingly over the top and boring series of loosely connected scenes meaning that it misses out on hitting the all important quality of a true cult film – the ability to make us want to watch it again and again and again….
Rubber begins with a cop presenting a film both to us, and an assembled on screen audience in the middle of a nondescript desert. It’s all very meta as we watch what his happening to the audience, as well as what they are seeing, and throughout the 90 minutes these characters blend into the ‘film’ they are supposedly watching, becoming participants and victims. The cop makes repeated references to those pointless, inexplicable moments in cinema which just happen for no reason. So far, so French. The bulk of the film follows the adventures of a Rubber tyre which apparently comes to life and embarks on a destructive voyage, but we frequently flip back to the group of watchers to get their reactions. Naturally, as explained at the start by the cop, nothing is explained, and nothing needs to be – a fine alibi.
The film does of course manage a fair amount of laughs in the early moments – it’s entertaining watching the tyre flop about and gain new murderous powers, and the early kills are gory fun, but it rapidly becomes tyring (ahem). Midway through the film, one audience member believes he has an answer for the carnage and tries to sabotage the film which serves to make the plot a little more interesting, and to stretch out the running time, but rather than being as clever as it thinks it is being, it is instead quaint at best, frustrating and off-putting at worst. It’s fairly obvious that the people paying or giving up their time to watch a film about a psychotic, killing tyre, want to see body parts fly and other gruesome, humourous kills and not any message about existentialism, art, film-making, or anything else.
Director Dupieux clearly has fun with the film, and for such a small budget with many effects shots, he is successful at crafting an entertaining film. The problem, as stated, is that there is too much fluff, too many ideas which don’t need to be covered, and it’s too long to sustain two basic jokes – a tyre that kills, and a film within a film. The few actors who have more than a few minutes on screen are fine without being memorable – the characters are rarely more than speech or thought bubbles, or soon to be headless corpses. I imagine there could have been something almost brilliant here, but I can’t stretch my imagination so far as seeing what that could be, or who could have pulled it off. Although the meta stuff has plenty of unfulfilled potential, I don’t think anyone needs or wants the sequel which the closing moments hints at.
Have you seen Rubber? Did you enjoy it more than I did? Let us know in the comments!