Steven Shainberg has created singular, indelible films in Secretary and Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, and it's been a decade since his last film, too long for Hollywood to go without such an unusual voice. So we have cause to celebrate his return, especially as Rupture is a horror/sci-fi outing with style and secrets, one that will keep you guessing from the dramatic title card right up until the closing credits.
Noomi Rapace is Renee, a recently single mother, working tirelessly and with no small amount of determination to adjust to her new reality. She has a great rapport with her pre-teen son Evan (Percy Hynes White), a wonderful frankness rarely seen between mother and son, but her relationship with her ex-husband is strained and unequal, causing stress for Renee and Evan alike.
The morning, on a sunny residential street in Kansas City, Missouri, starts like any other for Renee: she makes eggs for Evan and scolds him for preferring cereal, she fields calls from her friend, her ex, a man she went on a date with and is unsure about seeing again. But for the audience, Rupture makes no bones about the sinister undercurrent that's about to surface, telegraphing the morning's covert weirdness in the opening minutes of the film: a small metal device is attached to Renee's tire by a mysterious hand, the POV zooms in on an X-acto knife Renee pockets for an innocuous household chore, we see Evan and Renee going about their day from the angle of a hidden security camera. Something's not right here.
Very not right: after dropping Evan at his dad's, Renee gets a blow-out, and under the guise of roadside assistance, she's tasered and thrown into the back of a van. A woman (Lesley Manville as Dr. Nyman) duct-tapes Renee's head, cuts off her jeans, drugs her with sleeping pills. Some unknowable amount of time later, Renee wakes in a decrepit warehouse doubling as a high-tech lab, and a crew of rotating faces (including Manville and the great Peter Stormare, Michael Chiklis and Kerry Bishé) cycle in and out of her room, testing her, dosing her, asking her questions, forcing her to face her deepest phobias. Who are they, and who is Renee to them?
The mystery escalates and accelerates, aided by Shainberg's lush, primary-colored visual palette, more Suspiria confectionery than the cool, distancing blue-grey of most recent science fiction. Rapace is powerfully cast as Renee, who exhibits great ingenuity and courage in the face of her capture, always thinking on her feet, fighting back, maintaining her self-possession for the sake of seeing her son again.
During one of Renee's abortive escape attempts through the laboratory's duct work, we see a Cube-like labyrinth of phobias, stylish and frightening and cool as hell. Rupture is, in some ways, an examination on the nature of fear, how it cripples us and drives us, how it shapes who we are. But it must be said that as the film's mysteries are unraveled and Rupture's true thesis is spoken aloud, it's pretty elementary, especially in light of the seductive inscrutability that precedes it.
But that somewhat unsatisfying resolution does not retract from the perfect pressure of the film, riveting and dreadful, at times too tense to be borne. With Shainberg's first true genre entry, he's made it impossible to wait for his second.