Urban legend, especially in the northeastern part of the United States is a staple of horror, growing up and the loss of innocence. The mindset and susceptibility of what lingers in the dark seems to vanish as we move closer to adulthood. We forget that most of the monsters are us and most of the monsters are those adult figures who have not forgotten the fright of being so young and so innocent. These themes and memories tie into the brilliant and chilling short film brought to you by Bad Cookie Pictures and Akuma Films entitled THE MAN IN THE RABBIT MASK. Working off the lore of urban legends like Bloody Mary, The Slender Man, Ouija boards and more, this short form film accomplishes everything in under five minutes.
Opening with two young girls, Lucy and Cara, who are together for what seems to be a sleepover, they show two different sides of the pre-teen safety and perception, as one fears and wants to stay with the child delights of ALADDIN, while the other wants to follow in her sister’s footsteps by growing up and repeating the poem of THE MAN IN THE RABBIT MASK. Turning off the lights, both recite the poem to supposedly summon “Mr. Rabbity” for different reasons. At first it feels like a cruel joke, but soon enough they find out that the summoning is all too real and tempting. As the long, slender and masked man moves like a serpent wearing the curiosity of a hare, the figure offers, as the poem states, a sweet for a soul. Falling into temptation and offering up their innocence by the growing darkness and whispers, we are voyeurs to a choice that may or many not bring the insidious lines to life and a soul being collected by the mysterious man in the rabbit mask.
Directed by Ariel Hansen and crafted by writer Joel H. Brewster, Hansen’s second short film as director is wicked and short. Why bring this up, because as the viewer, you find a complete story that leaves you breathless. Again, based around the impact of the fear and temptation of urban legends, Hansen, Brewster, cinematographer Jordan Barnes-Crouse, costume artists Claire Brousseau and Sam Stringer, composer Kevin Williams among others bring the nightmare to life. The shadow that paints across the bedroom and lingers long, encompassing the man in the rabbit mask, is palpable. Crouse is able within a two-camera set up to find angles to let the darkness flow and the intimacy become more frightening. The framing captures the mood and presence to the point that you feel hairs go up on the back of your neck. The visual attack on your safety, just like the girls, is an illusion and the street performer style score reminds you of a jack-in-the-box, mounting tension with each turn of the crank. The casting is effective with the two young girls filling their roles of figures most have run into growing up in one form or another. However, the danger, style and movement of Chris Waters as “Mr. Rabbity” reminds you of performer Doug Jones as “The Gentleman” from the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” television series. The deliberate pace and movement lures you in with the truth of many who have given their souls to the demon. The mask again finds very precise details and aged looks from the eerie ceremonies of the Victorian era.
The build up to offering of a sweet for a soul is a blend of innocence, intricate detail and malice that we all have feared in the dark corners, walking down stairs and that cold breeze during a warm, dark night. It sends chills and is punctuated with the sister’s entrance and reaction to the reality of the boogie man coming to take the girls away and the mesmerizing power that your little mind cannot overcome for the simple pleasure of sweetness. THE MAN IN THE RABBIT MASK is so effective and looks crisp with the wonderful lighting setup (including the wonderful exposure of the candle) and the blocking that moves the shadows that create cover for the masked entity and fill the space with doom and dread. Hansen breaks the fourth wall and presents what might have happened to Alice through the looking glass in the true sense of the cautionary tale. It will be interesting to see if this gets developed and where Hansen as well as Brewster go from here. Detail, tension and connection to those moments of being a child are tempted with sweets, sin and souls in the tale of THE MAN IN THE RABBIT MASK.