The first time we see Harlon (Nick Krause), the troubled antihero of Tim McCann’s White Rabbit, he looks exhausted, as if the bags under his eyes were caused from years of insomnia. Sitting in a beat-up car, the traumatized young man stares into the distance without an ounce of emotion. Moments later he’s locked and loaded a shotgun and begins walking toward a school. Cue flashback to the moment where things started to go rotten for the kid.
White Rabbit fancies itself an origin story that argues a steady diet of family abuse, societal bullying, and comic-book culture is the perfect cocktail for molding the prototypical vengeful loner. McCann suggests that multiple factors play a role in Harlon’s descent into depression and rage, the most important of which involves the killing of a white rabbit during a hunting trip with his hillbilly father, Darrell (Sam Trammell). From this obvious instance of innocence lost, Harlon’s existence only gets more oppressive. His one friend in the world commits suicide, an edgy teenage pixie (Britt Robertson) breaks his heart, and school officials treat him like an outcast. An obvious symbol of guilt, the bloodied snow-white hare pops up at convenient moments to remind us of Harlon’s growing psychosis. Just in case you were thinking this kid might find a way to reconcile the pain, demonic characters from a graphic novel come to life and whisper sweet horrors into his ear.
The film argues that Harlon’s weakness stems from an inability to recognize fantasy from reality. His descent into madness feels calculated by easy answers (environment, poor parenting) and no creative outlet to challenge the monsters arguing inside his head. When Harlon’s shooting spree finally transpires, McCann tries to inject a sense of ambiguity into the aftermath, hoping to complicate character motivations and psychology along the lines of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. It’s a testament to White Rabbit’s cliché dream structure and character arc that one may be left wondering if Harlon actually shoots up the school. All the while Krause looks lost, his uneven acting turn caught between method and caricature.
Even if Krause’s performance weren’t so confused, the trite way Southern life is represented in White Rabbit makes his character’s potential endgame seem stagnantly preordained and one-note. McCann isn’t interested in connecting the psychological dots of his character’s thinking beyond the way this awful community whole-heartedly informs Harlon’s misguided decision-making. Trauma breeds in hollowed-out factories and derelict homes, and just like every element of White Rabbit, the root of evil is explained away by derivative imagery and dialogue. If only the devil were really that transparent.