[Interview] Hannah Kent for RUN RABBIT RUN

[Interview] Hannah Kent for RUN RABBIT RUN
RUN RABBIT RUN l Sundance
RUN RABBIT RUN is about Sarah, a fertility doctor, whose young daughter starts exhibiting strange behavior that points to the mystery from of her past that starts affecting Sarah and her daughter’s life now. The film is directed by Daina Reid (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Shining Girls”), and stars Sarah Snook (“Succession”), Lily LaTorre (The Clearing), Damon Herriman (The Nightingale), and Greta Scacchi (“The Terror”).

At the Sundance Film Festival, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Dolores Quintana spoke with Hannah Kent, the screenwriter of RUN RABBIT RUN. During the course of their chat, they discussed everything from adapting to the screenwriting process, the concept of the monstrous mother, and her appreciation for research, with Robert Eggers cited as an example.

It’s a lovely film and it’s got a lot of haunting qualities to it. I was wondering where the film was set specifically.

Hannah Kent: The first half of the film is set in suburban South Australia, around the coast, and then it moves into a much more dramatic landscape, which is the river land in South Australia. near the River Murray. We have these very large, dramatic cliffs, and this beautiful river running through a lot of farmland and some arid land as well.

Where did the idea for RUN RABBIT RUN come from? It has a lot of haunting imagery, the beautiful countryside, dream imagery, and rabbits. Tell me a little bit about where the idea came from.

Hannah Kent: It evolved. This project started quite a few years ago now and it started with a conversation with the producers of the film. I’m predominantly a novelist by trade and I had some interest but no experience in screenwriting. The producers approached me. They had read my books and thought they had a visual quality to them. They asked if I was ever interested [in writing a screenplay]. As someone who spends a lot of time writing by herself, the collaborative aspect of the project was really appealing. We had this pitch meeting and [with] me not knowing what I was doing, I pitched them all these really terrible ideas, in retrospect, which are mainly all my short stories. They were so polite, but then we started talking about the other books I had in mind.

One of the projects I was really interested in, was looking at these true stories of children who report previous existences, or who speak of others having had other families or having other parents and missing them. I was interested in this because there are so many that have been documented, but I was interested in it from the perspective of a parent. This led to many conversations around motherhood, the monstrous mother, and the complexities and ambiguities you can feel as a mother towards your child.

Then, of course, all of that got absolutely heightened and we started exploring what happens when you suppress an incredibly traumatic event. We started looking at notions of culpability. We went through quite a few drafts, but, you know, those drafts were us working out what we wanted to explore. By the time we got to the rabbit, that was, I think, where we started really drilling down into the things that were, were appealing and the rabbit is such a symbolic animal anyway. Obviously, it’s a symbol of victimhood in many ways as a prey animal. In Australia, it has a lot of resonance as being a pest of the landscape, particularly, which is shown to have a lot of a wild rabbit population. So there’s also this sense of being haunted, being plagued by something allowing us to use sometimes in a heavy-handed, sometimes in a more subtle way to represent metaphorically the things that we were interested in exploring.

Hannah Kent

You mentioned the idea of the monstrous mother. I think that the film stresses the complexity of human beings. You show that the mother is stressed out, she’s dealing with grief, two types of grief at the same time, old relationships, and this thing that’s going on. She’s very sharp with the children and with other people. But also you bring complexity to the child because I think people only think of children as always being happy, like mothers always being happy, and never doing anything bad. You show the complexity of children as well, that sometimes they’re annoying and sometimes they’re mean, and sometimes they’re violent. I think in the film there is a good dialogue about the complexity of human nature and who we all are.

Hannah Kent: Yeah, absolutely. This is what was interesting and I think the horror genre, the psychological horror genre, is such a good space to explore because it often deals with what is considered abject by society, or what is considered taboo. I think there’s a need to have conversations around representations of motherhood, particularly those that we have historically received, because I don’t think they do mothers or children any favors. I think it’s much better to explore and understand that we are all composed of myriad complexities and contradictions.

That was one thing that we were interested in exploring in the film, this idea of culpability of guilt and innocence, and what point you know, do we are we no longer excused for our tempers and for the acts that we do, for the heinous things we do? I’m glad that you saw that [in the film]. We’re all mothers, basically, the filmmakers. Daina Reid, the producers, and myself. In fact, I wrote a lot of the early drafts when I was completely overcome with morning sickness with my first child, which is one of the reasons why we went into the horror genre. Just having nausea as a constant companion makes you think of other things.

We spoke a lot about it. There was a lot of the creative process involved us talking about our experiences of ambivalence within our own experiences of motherhood, and all of us love being mothers, so we didn’t really have to have that as a disclaimer [in front of the film].

Like saying, Oh no, don’t worry, I am a good woman.

Hannah Kent: We just wanted to kind of move beyond good or bad but at the same time look at the monstrous, especially at the self, a self-perception of monstrosity, which is pretty key in the film.

You can see it in Sarah Snook’s performance You can really see her giving herself a hard time and judging herself for the things that she feels and how she acts.

Hannah Kent: Absolutely. I think the character, and this is something that Sarah Snook brings so beautifully to the role. She’s just trying to keep a lid on it really, [she has] absolutely a whole bunch of unaddressed trauma, but also the self-loathing that has arisen out of the guilt. It is this preoccupation with self-loathing, that ironically means that she’s no longer capable of really mothering her child safely.

RUN RABBIT RUN l Sundance

What was it like making the film?

Hannah Kent: it was a joy. It was an incredibly steep learning curve for me, starting to write for the screen, but I felt hugely supported by the team. It was an astonishing thing to be able to go on a set visit and see Dana in action and learn from her. To see what she was bringing to those early conversations around the drafts of the film. Then the whole team, from the art direction to perform the phenomenal performances from Sarah Snook, Damon Herriman, Greta Scacchi, and also Lilly LaTorre, I mean, an incredible talent.

And do you have anything coming up? Anything that you can talk about?

Hannah Kent: I’m currently working on the screenplay adaptations of my two of two novels of mine. One is The Good People which is with Aquarius Productions. [It] is set in Ireland in the 19th century, and it revolves around a group of women who suspect they have a changeling in their midst so it’s very much based on folklore, and my book was based on a true story. The other film that I’m working on is my latest novel Devotion, which is really a romantic story between two young women belonging to a congregation of old Lutherans who migrated from Prussia to South Australia again in the first half of the 19th century.

So, are these projects more in the subgenre of folk horror?

Hannah Kent: I think it might. I really loved the research, for example, that went into Robert Eggers’ film, The Witch. So much of that is absolutely drawn from the sources and that was the same sort of rabbit hole I went down in my research when writing the book. I spent a lot of time in Ireland than a lot of time at the folklore archives there.

Robert Eggers. He’s a real bear for research.

Hannah Kent: You can tell. As a writer, when I write my historical fiction, I’m a real stickler for research. I spend every day researching. So, to see it in a film, it’s simply gratifying.


RUN RABBIT RUN had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. You can learn more about the film here.

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