While the latest venture Rubberneck from writer/director/actor Alex Karpovsky conjures some voyeuristic connotations, it offers so much more. Co-writer Garth Donovan and Karpovsky, with quoted influences such as Brian Glazer’s Birth (2004), Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005), and Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction (1987), find eerie attachment and obsession all too inspiring for this film about a man who becomes infatuated with his coworker. As Karpovsky’s character Paul Harris sheepishly attempts to win the affection of Danielle Jenkins (played by Jamie Ray Newman), his fixation begins to crystallize, and we begin to wonder just how Harris operates. But far from demonstrating narrative techniques that may progressively reveal clues in rationalizing a character’s pathological symptoms or motives, Rubberneck successfully holds back until the very end, all the while alluding to a self-referential undercurrent. It is ultimately a comment on cinema itself, on the power to primarily see and hear, as well as the brutally delicate nature of perceiving and handling an object of desire.
From its very opening sequence, when we are provided with a close-up of an ornament dangling on a Christmas tree, the film observes limits of looking. It is the camera that maneuvers within and outside objects in the act of filming, helping us to view at different angles and from different distances. While close-ups of feet walking down stairs and red clover on the side of the highway in Rubberneck pull us to a unique proximity, Paul is confined to seeing things at a distance. He gazes at Danielle from afar, and views specimens through protective glass shields at his workplace, a small cancer research laboratory on the outskirts of Boston. Here, the function of filming/camera mobility and montage carefully complement themes of intimacy and physical separation.
Paul’s seemingly innocuous advancements toward Danielle despite her rejection create an uneasy play. What he has perfected professionally is an outward manifestation of what he can never achieve in his personal life. Working with deft hands, Paul allocates chemicals in test tubes and gingerly caresses guinea pigs as a gesture in humane treatment; yet, he furthers himself from Danielle by not handling his relationships with the same gentle awareness. For, as the film culminates in a scene outside Danielle’s apartment, we see only legs thrashing in a door threshold. Moments of such cinematic revelation and discretion lead us to conclude that to get too close to an object is to destroy it, to not see it for what it is. Ultimately, for Paul, intimacy becomes more alienating than he could ever have imagined.
Acknowledging the significance of sensual perception in any thriller, Karpovsky has delivered a tightly wound piece in Rubberneck. Audiences who have familiarized themselves with Boston’s brooding cinematic climate produced within the past decadeexuded from films such as Mystic River (2003), The Departed (2006), Gone Baby Gone (2007), and The Town (2010)will be sure to revel in this one.