MONTREAL — If Steven Shainberg’s career as a director was helped by his Sundance breakthrough “Secretary,” it hasn’t been easy coasting since then. Shainberg followed that film up with the Nicole Kidman– and Robert Downey Jr.-starring “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus,” which, just like “Secretary,” has built up a loyal cult fanbase over the years.
Even so, it has taken 10 years for Shainberg to release his next film. “Rupture,” unlike his last two films, follows genre tropes a little more closely. It stars Noomi Rapace as Renee, a single, Montreal-born mother who gets abducted for a reason unbeknownst to her and undergoes severe and traumatic experimentation in a hidden lab, with the goal to make her ultimately defeat her worst fears, all for a nefarious purpose. But Renee doesn’t submit easily to her captors, and almost as soon as she’s strapped down to a gurney, she begins to plot her escape. But it won’t be easy.
The medical laboratory is creepily thought-out, with some sly, subtle details mixed into its labyrinth-like contour. Even if one escapes from his/her room, finding a way out of the place is frustrating and almost impossible to achieve. The ventilation system leads to nowhere, ditto the elevator which just leads Renee to another floor filled with immaculate maze-like detail. It’s a nightmare location fully fleshed out by Shainberg and his co-screenwriter Brian Nelson.
The halls are roamed by experimental doctors checking up on their “patients” one door at a time. Michael Chiklis plays the unnamed leader of the gang in a not-so-subtle, underwritten role; ditto Lesley Manville playing his assistant, Dr. Nyman, a woman that always seems to have a hypodermic needle in her hand. There’s also Kerry Bishé as another unnervingly cold nurse, and Peter Stormare in a small but no less creepy role. The relentless action passes by so swiftly that Shainberg doesn’t get to build up his villains in a way for us to despise them enough. Chiklis and Manville are given one-sentence lines, which they deliver in the best manner they can, but which don’t really add up or bring authenticity to their characters. The same could be said of Rapace’s Renee, whose background story we barely know except for a brief five-minute introduction at the beginning of the film showcasing her as a frustrated single mother who doesn’t like her ex-husband and is struggling with the challenges of raising a pubescent son with emotional issues.
Sacrificing character for action, Shainberg’s film does hold onto to its luridly devilish pace until its final third when the director decides to add the supernatural into the mix. The conflicting mixture of the real and the surreal ends up being a decidedly failed opportunity to accentuate Renee’s horrific psyche. All this time we were in her head and ready to go anywhere to taste that final bit of freedom with her. What Shainberg does is add an unnecessary and uninvolving twist to the story that, instead of feeling fresh and original, becomes frustratingly distant and cold.
The Swedish-born Rapace, has been slowly but surely building up a career in American movies and making a real mark. The 36-year-old actress has also done sci-fi/horror before, starring as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” prequel “Prometheus” and in the currently filming sequel, “Alien: Covenant.” Her facial gestures and looks can sometimes be filled up with an innumerable amount of emotions, and her physical prowess — she’s no slouch in the muscle department — builds considerable heroism to a story that needs it.
Premiering at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, “Rupture” places a gripping hold on its audience for nearly two-thirds of its 102-minute running time before stumbling slight in the final act. It might not be as risk-taking as previous Shainberg gems, but his knack for expertly crafted drama remains. [C+]