Synopsis – A girl living with schizophrenia struggles with terrifying hallucinations as she begins to suspect her neighbor has kidnapped a child. The only person who believes her is Caleb -a boy she isn’t even sure exists.
My Take – Though I can’t put an exact number to it, we’ve seen numerous stories about a person in a vulnerable position who is convinced of a crime that has been committed yet no one around them spends any form of energy or shares any sort of belief to their claims. Joining this long line of such spins is the latest from writer-director Castille Landon (the helmer of the upcoming After sequels, After We Fell and After Ever Happy), who uses her protagonist’s mental illness as a way to differentiate her spin on this familiar narrative.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, what starts off as an interesting spin on horror by placing mental illness at the center of its story-line quickly goes all over the place by forcing us to go through questions about the protagonist’s reality. There are a few twists and turns to keep the intrigue, but the constant screaming and whole sessions of is it real or is it not starts to wear thin very quickly.
While director Landon claims to have envisioned the film to shatter the stereotypes of the serious mental illness (based on an interview), it unfortunately mostly succumbs to it especially, as the uninspired script turns it into a horror attraction, without shedding any thoughtful light on it.
Sure, the film uses big words and terminology to educate the viewer, but its exploitation of a schizophrenic teen whose every claim is assumed to be a part of her illness ends up being only marginally watchable that to mainly due to an empathetic lead performance from Madison Iseman and her attempts to thoughtfully explore her character’s disorder.
The story follows Rain Burroughs (Madison Iseman), an estranged teenager suffering from schizophrenia, who has been recently discharged from hospital following a particularly disturbing and damaging episode. Though her loving parents, Michelle (Katherine Heigl) and John (Harry Connick Jr.), have set her up with weekly therapist sessions and useful medications to help her, Rain continues to struggle with her illness as hallucinations and creepy whispers continue to plague her daily routine.
To make matters worse, she becomes convinced that her next door neighbor, Dani McConnell (Eugenie Bondurant), who is also one of her teachers, is behind the kidnapping of a missing young girl and is hiding her in the attic. Though a dangerous accusation like that can get her institutionalized, Rain begins an expansive investigation with Caleb (Israel Broussard), the new kid at school, to hopefully prove she isn’t crazy, even though she isn’t sure if Caleb is real.
Without a doubt this is an intriguing premise, but the final result is infuriating because it has some glimmers of hope but ends up becoming a clichéd confusing mess. It gives itself multiple directions to go, and yet stumbles into the worse one. Here, Rain’s obsession with her neighbor is the driving force of the film, but the real cat-and-mouse game is for audiences to decipher who is telling the truth.
Though it doesn’t spell out that Rain is an unreliable narrator, it does explicitly questions the reality of what we’re watching throughout the entire film, as Rain runs through a checklist when she doesn’t know if she’s hallucinating the existence of another person. To help, director Landon unveils enough teases to keep the wheels turning, including a few stylistic touches like throwing text from Rain’s journal on screen whenever she’s triggered by her surroundings.
However, the use of Rain’s illness as a plot device is an uncomfortable stumbling block that the film never quite overcomes. Where things fall down a little bit more is with the film’s need to offer twists, and the film finds itself in the awkward position of having to tell a story where we know that some of the things that are happening only do so within Rain’s mind.
Trying unsuccessfully to be overtly smart, it proceeds through a series of reality-shifting twists throughout its latter half, but this strategy is just as misguided as its efforts to educate the audience, mainly as viewers will end up looking more towards the tricks director Landon has written into the story rather than paying attention to the lead character.
In fact, director Landon’s film is more skillful during its sensitive, more intimate moments when it takes a break from being a paranoid girl-who-cried-wolf thriller. Especially during some scenes between Rain and Caleb, her father, and her therapist, there’s some genuine thought put into exploring her mental state. But these well-intentioned moments are fleeting. As the story seems more interested in pushing its protagonist through several dark moments and several predictable twists, before inevitably landing on a final confrontation that just feels rushed and not all that nerve-wracking.
Nevertheless, like I mentioned above, Madison Iseman makes what Rain is going through on a daily basis absolutely terrifying. Her intense performance helps to keep one engaged even though everything seems to be falling apart. In supporting roles, Israel Broussard brings the necessary humor and warmth, while Eugenie Bondurant is elegantly creepy, as she uses her natural height and angular features to her advantage. As the parents, Katherine Heigl and Harry Connick Jr. are fine in one dimensional roles. On the whole, ‘Fear of Rain’ is a defective psychological horror thriller that sinks under its gimmicky premise.
Directed – Castille Landon
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 92 minutes