Rubberneck is a 2012 American thriller film directed by Alex Karpovsky (who also stars) from a screenplay co-written with Garth Donovan. The movie stars Alex Karpovsky, Jaime Ray Newman and Dennis Staroselsky.
As downbeat a movie as you are likely to see this year, Alex Karpovsky’s study of obsession gone bad takes the themes of 1980s shockers like Fatal Attraction and grounds them in an all-too-real world, stripping out the hysteria to instead create a quiet story of sexual fixation.
When research scientist Paul (Karpovsky) hooks up with colleague Danielle (Jamie Ray Newman) at the office Christmas party, for her it is just a one-night thing, and although he manages to talk her into a ‘second date’ in a cringe-worthy phone conversation, their ‘relationship’ goes no further. But he remains obsessed with her – months later, he’s paying for sex with a woman who he can’t perform with, turns down jobs he’s applied for because he can’t bear the idea of not seeing her and generally behaves like a lovestruck but ultimately helpless man who seems almost sympathetic.
This isn’t the obsessive stalker we usually see in films. He doesn’t harass her or threaten her – they barely even speak at work and when they do, it doesn’t involve inappropriate declarations. In other words, it’s an all-too-convincing study of insular unrequited and unspoken love.
However, when Danielle starts a relationship with a new employee – a married employee at that – he becomes more proactive, at first phoning the cheated-on wife to tell her about the affair and then trying to take advantage of a confrontation between the two women. Inevitably, this ends in tragedy and Paul’s life soon begins to spin out of control.
Like the recently-released Simon Killer – a film that Rubberneck shares a lot with tonally and thematically – this is a restrained, low key study of a personality disorder that slowly develops, building its horrors slowly.
Anyone looking for a traditional horror might feel let down by the movie’s one, brief moment of violence, but it’s what makes the film so effective – the restraint of the film and the central character suddenly breaking for one split-second moment that changes everything.
Karpovsky – who co-wrote with Garth Donovan, as well as starring and directing – brings a social realism feel to the film (at times, it’s almost like watching a documentary) and makes Paul someone we can understand, if not necessarily relate to.
For the first half of the film, he seems like the sympathetic character, led on and then dumped by the seemingly shallow Danielle. But as his obsession grows stronger, he becomes a more worrying figure, even though there is still no evidence that he is dangerous (indeed, some people would probably see him exposing the affair as public-spirited).
The final revelation of the tragedy in his past could seem hackneyed in less confident hands, and admittedly doesn’t really offer an explanation for his actions, but it works thanks to Karpovsky and Amanda Good Hennessey as his sister Linda – the only person he seems to have a real relationship with.
With excellent performances, all-round, a dark, bass-heavy score by James Lavino that brings a sense of both menace and impending tragedy to the often minimalist scenes and an overall bleakness that is palpable, Rubberneck is not exactly fun – but it is pretty effecting. And if nothing else, it’ll put you off office hook-ups for life.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA