Can a film be simultaneously too bold and too circumspect? Castille Landon’s YA horror Fear of Rain is guilty of being both to varying degrees. A thriller about a teenage girl suffering from schizophrenia who believes her next door neighbour has kidnapped a child, this attempt at concatenating sensitive character study with lurid, hallucinatory dramatic leaps runs aground on its own contradictions.
Teenager Rain (Madison Iseman) is allowed home following a particularly intense psychotic episode. She tries to focus on normality, with the support of her loving parents (Katherine Heigl and Harry Connick Jr.), but she soon begins to suspect her eccentric teacher neighbour Dani (Eugenie Bondurant) is up to no good. Rain believes she has seen a little girl being kept in Dani’s attic. But as she is also suffering from other auditory and visual hallucinations she can’t be sure that what she has seen is real. She even doubts the existence of her personable new friend Caleb (Israel Broussard).
Initially playing a little like Jacob’s Ladder-lite, Fear of Rain (awful title) shows promise to begin with. This is mainly down to the impressive Iseman, doing a great job of trying to stuff the terrifying, viscera of her condition back inside a skin of normality. The young actor keeps it all admirably grounded, despite the frequent scenes of family melodrama, and Landon’s giddy insistence on a constantly twitchy camera, presumably intended to convey a sense of nervous urgency. We are left in no doubt how deeply we are meant to empathise with this young women. Then things take a turn for the absurd, using Rain’s illness as a convenient method of narrative sleight-of-hand. Cheeky, but somewhat undercutting the worthy message that she, “is not [her] sickness!” The film also has no qualms about using Bondurant’s striking, rangy physicality in a way explicitly intended to disturb. At times, it’s done effectively, but is straight out the exploitation playbook Landon has clearly hidden inside her copy of An Angel At My Table.
This failure to thread the needle between its noble aims and more salacious impulses is a shame, as on a dramatic level the idea is completely sound. Taking young adult riffs on the Rear Window framework like Fright Night or Disturbia and then adding the crushing self-doubt diagnosed schizophrenia would impose offers up all kinds of interesting implications. However, Fear of Rain fails on two levels. It is just too timid to embrace the exploitative tendencies of its narrative. And it is only through that prism that its kamikaze dramatic swoops make any sense.
Fear of Rain is clearly intended for a younger audience, and there is a real lunatic appeal to the ludicrous lengths it is willing to take the story. Yet it holds itself back at every turn, leaving it too late for genuine impact when it finally thinks about going for broke. Perhaps the filmmakers have hedged their bets a little about what their target market will tolerate in terms of representation. Genre-savvy old farts meanwhile will recognise all the films to which Fear of Rain owes a debt, and wish that Landon had embraced all their problematic glory.
Available On-demand from Mon 26 Apr 2021