“Rear Window” is a great movie. Books have literally been written about its brilliance. One of the other interesting (and not always accurate) metrics of its greatness are the number of films which borrow some of the ideas of the Hitchcock film. Out today is the latest in a long line of such spins, writer-director Castille Landon’s “Fear of Rain.” Maybe not the best of adaptations, it is intriguing enough to power through some of the elements that don’t work.
The biggest switch “Fear of Rain” offers is in its replacement of Jimmy Stewart’s main character. Yes, gone is L.B. Jeffries, aging photojournalist with a broken leg. In his place is Madison Iseman’s teenager Rain Burroughs, who suffers from schizophrenia. While Jeffries could only stare out his window and wonder what was happening across the way, Rain can head next door to investigate what her teacher is up to, but even she can’t always know whether what she’s seeing and hearing is real or in her mind.
If we accept that the portrayal of schizophrenia is accurate (I make no claims about whether the presentation is true to life), this makes for a great and mesmerizing change to the story. Rain is forced to regularly ask herself a series of questions about whether what she’s seeing is plausible and whether others are reacting to it. There are moments we in the audience, just like Rain, are fully aware that what we’re seeing isn’t happening but there are many more when, again like Rain, we just don’t know.
So, we watch and we wonder as Rain’s father (Harry Connick, Jr.) and mother (Katherine Heigl) talk to her about what she’s seeing and thinking and feeling. We get to see her attempt to return to school after one particularly disturbing and damaging hallucination. Her best friend doesn’t want to talk to her anymore and while there’s a new kid at school, Caleb (Israel Broussard), Rain isn’t sure what to make of him. The only thing Rain is pretty convinced about is that her next door neighbor, Dani McConnell (Eugenie Bondurant), who is also one of her teachers, has kidnapped a young girl and is keeping her in the attic.
But has Dani? Is it all in Rain’s mind? How can Rain convince anyone of what she believes when, should she make the accusation and be wrong, she might find herself institutionalized?
It’s an intriguing concept. By and large, Landon pulls off the changes to “Rear Window” successfully. One can almost even accept that after one break-in attempt by Rain, Dani wouldn’t bother activating the alarm on her house when she goes out. That said, while Jeffries couldn’t act quickly enough with a camera to get proof, there’s little reason to understand why Rain can’t snap a photo of the kid across the way on the iPhone she has with her. Goodness knows that we, as a society, take photos of anything and everything all the time.
So much of those conundrums, however, can be overlooked thanks to Iseman’s performance. Even if the horror elements of the movie lack scares, Iseman makes what Rain is going through on a daily basis absolutely terrifying. Just being at school and knowing you’re being talked about is awful, but are the kids really saying some of the horrible things you hear or is that the schizophrenia? How do you deal with that? Iseman offers Rain’s uncertainty with perfection.
Bondurant is perfect and creepy in the extreme as Dani, while Broussard’s Caleb truly winning in his aw shucks awkwardness. However, neither Heigl nor Connick’s characters are given the time and space they need to become the forces which the movie require. Too often they are forced to offer particularly obvious parent positions when so much more is hinted at. There are full stories there for both of them, but those remain marginalized and the tale is worse for it.
Where things fall down a little bit more is with the movie’s need to offer twists. “Fear of Rain” finds itself in the awkward position of having to tell a story where we know that some of the things that are happening only do so within Rain’s mind. We also know that much of the story that occurs has to do so for everyone in the movie. It isn’t too outlandish to assume that the vast majority of the movie will fall into this latter category. Consequently, when you do spot what Rain is imagining to be real that isn’t, a whole lot of the suspense is eliminated. The mind turns towards looking for the tricks Landon has written into the story rather than paying attention to the lead character.
“Fear of Rain” is not as good as “Rear Window,” but that is in no way intended as a disparaging remark; the Hitchcock movie is one of the finest films ever made. This movie offers a series of particularly engaging changes and Iseman succeeds as the lead. It is a movie scarier and more engrossing for the real world ideas it presents than the imagined narrative it concocts, and there’s something good in that, something that makes it worth watching.
photo credit: Lionsgate