Give Tim McCann credit for his twisted imagination: His see-it-to-believe-it 2005 cheapie Nowhere Man concerns a guy hunting for his own severed penis, sliced off by his ex-fiancée, who’s now hiding out with the organ in the residence of her former porn-movie co-star.
While not quite that outré-sounding, McCann’s latest, White Rabbit, boasts its own head-turning premise: Bullied adolescent Harlon (Nick Krause) can’t shake the torment of his memory of shooting a rabbit at close range as a child. In the tense opening, Krause has a black eye, sports slicked-back hair, and wears dark, fingerless gloves — a far cry from his dopey guise in The Descendants.
The rest of the movie, shot in gun-country Louisiana (overgrown weeds, rusty swing sets, wasted-away factories), establishes the buildup to that loaded image. There’s the disrespect of his father (Sam Trammell), who calls him a “pussy” when he hesitates to shoot the rabbit; there are his comic-book hallucinations; and there’s Harlon’s courtship of new-girl-in-town Julie (Britt Robertson, bringing great energy), a dirty blonde with a blue streak in her hair.
McCann has legitimate, evocative instincts. In Nowhere Man, it’s apparent in the close-up on the dripping catheter as Michael Rodrick tries to piss sans penis; in White Rabbit, it’s evident when Julie — drunk, lounging fireside — vomits in Harlon’s mouth just as they’re about to make out. (It’s not for nothing that Jonathan Rosenbaum called McCann’s 1995 debut, Desolation Angels, “unlike anything else in recent American filmmaking.”)
Unfortunately, White Rabbit’s grave, problematic conclusion attempts to broaden the movie’s scope in a way that ultimately feels more unwarranted and distasteful than it does organic to the material.