Rubber presents itself within all the confines of its construction, nothing more, nothing less. Shot in the American desert for under $1 million dollars, director Quentin Dupieux treats the location as a blank canvas, crafting his scenes with minimal flare, yet with maximum potency. Here the ignored landscape gives birth to Robert, a discarded car tire. Robert seems to have been awoken into a cognitive state of being, one that also includes the urge to kill and psychokinetic powers. Imagine if Spike Jonze and Roger Corman had a baby, sent it to be raised by television in France only to return home to the States with their interpretation of Frankenstein, Scanners, and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. At times you’re not sure whether Rubber is meant to be horror film, a dark comedy, or a tragic love story, but it seems to want to travel beyond the constrictions of these labels. And if you want labels, find a jar; this is about a killer tire.
An audience of spectators is gathered to see the events of our film play out. The group is a mixed bag of ages, ethnicities and other backgrounds, meant to mirror us, the audience watching the screen. This includes a father and son, an opinionated Black woman, a couple of teenage girls, a pair of movie buffs, and a lone man in a wheel chair. Equipped by an accountant looking fellow with binoculars these spectators watch the proceeding of Rubber play out in real time, like a theater play from a distance. They are greeted by Lt. Chad, who informs them that what they are about to witness has “no reason”. Any explanation of what you’re to witness is broad stroked in benign pop culture films that conjure up Twin Peaks era Lynch. Upon awakening this tire soon takes to a path of destruction, rolling the deserted landscape in search of prey. After dispatching various wildlife, the tire soon becomes obsessed with a beautiful women traveling the long stretch of road alone and begins to follow her. She takes a rest at a roadside motel where Robert develops a taste for the joys of television and mass murder. When Robert’s crimes are discovered by the motel owner’s son, no one seems to believe him. The police don’t seem to have any leads as to who could have killed the maid by exploding her head. And then it all seems to be called off, the fourth wall is officially broken, when in a moment almost straight out of Last Action Hero, Lt. Chad states that there are no more spectators, no one has to continue on with this farce. But our wheel-chaired champion remains and so the story must continue.
The cast offers plenty of “Oh hey, that guy” moments. Comedic actor Jack Plotnick gives a great performance, flexing his muscles as a servant to the film in a sense, overseeing an audience that is never aware of the danger they are in with their viewing. Plotnick’s best scenes revolve around an audience member confined to a wheel chair, played by the gruff Wings Hauser. Wings won’t succumb to the plot around him as he is determined by any means to see the conclusion of the tire’s tale, even becoming involved in the action taken by the police to apprehend their unusual suspect. David Bowe plays the hotel owner that won’t stand for any nonsense about a killer tire, until it’s too late. Stephen Spinella offers a turn as Lt. Chad, a narrator that seems to be the hub of the story with this tire spinning round it. Lt. Chad offers the theory that great films are born from “no reason” – just like ordinary life and that’s what makes great films. Lt. Chad informs all that – JFK, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Love Story – these films all stand on the same plateau of design; no reason.
This film is sardonic and yet delightfully so, pointing a finger at itself to show it can be art-house and midnight movie all in one and then pointing at its audience to determine its fate. Is it French New-New-New Wave cinema? I doubt that, but the beauty it attempts to parallel with such absurd subject content makes for a unique film going excursion. You would be hard pressed to believe how entertaining watching a tire roll around in the desert could be, especially when it doesn’t speak or have an inner monologue. And yet it all works, especially when coupled with the cinematography that lends itself to the stylings of a postcard wishing you were here for the bloodbath. Rubber has all the marking of a Slasher film; an unrelenting killer, a beauty unaware that she is prey, law enforcement perplexed on how to stop the menace, and plenty of bloody bodies sans heads. Never able to be accepted by society, Robert rebels against it and leaves plenty of room for a sequel in doing so.