Rubberneck is the story of a man alone. Taking ‘real events’ as a jumping off point, the film follows Paul, a man plagued by his past, unable to share his burden even with his caring sister.
When, a full eight months later, Danielle starts seeing another man, Paul’s anxieties start to become physically debilitating, literally almost suffocating him at times, and he must find some way of releasing the pressure.
Of course there are any number of ways that a film could tackle this kind of subject, and fortunately Rubberneck doesn’t take the easy way out. There are no great explosions of gratuitous, bloody violence, nor are there scenes of Paul, played Right on key by director and co-writer Alex Karpovsky, emoting like nobody’s business just so you can really get how messed up he is. Instead we get a film which allows us to see how real-world events can slowly unfold to reveal the sort of news headlines we love to be shocked by.
This lack of sensationalism permeates the film’s style as well as its script. Rubberneck manages to be a strangely quiet independent film without feeling arch or achingly hip. This is not New York social commentary, nor L.A. freak scene splatterfest. Instead we’re given an intriguing, slow-burning story of obsession and abandonment – the kind of thing that can happen anywhere.
And while there are various ‘surprises’, from little white lies to buried traumas to extra-marital affairs, these don’t provide the regular high notes of shock and awe that you might expect. I know some reviewers have found this frustrating but personally I’m not concerned with the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ here; it’s clear from pretty early on that not everything is going to go swimmingly for Paul and the film’s tension doesn’t necessarily come from finding out why this is destined to be the case.
Rather, what makes the film so effective and, yes, creepy, is that as we join Paul on this journey of discovery, his secrets become our secrets, his tensions our tension and as such it’s not so much the past that we’re afraid of. What really begins to scare us is what we’re going to do next.
In short, Rubberneck is taught but not overstretched; believable but not flat; enjoyable but not fun. It’s character study unfolds like a mundane, but vastly improved, version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Sure, hardly anyone dies, but it’s actually pretty good.