The vibe of Jackrabbit, a no-budget dystopian cyberpunk thriller, was inspired by trips to the video store. Its whole mood is defined by vaguely remembered VHS box art, and the types of films that fill a person’s childhood but leave only a trace of images. You can’t even remember the movie titles, or if you’ve watched something. They’re barely memories—impressions might be a better word.
This may explain why Jackrabbit reminded me of Beyond the Black Rainbow.
It may also explain why I had a similar response to Jackrabbit as a I had to Beyond the Black Rainbow. (Not a good one.)
Director: Carleton Ranney
Release Date: n/a
In Jackrabbit, an event has left the world in a kind of 80s techno stasis. Cities are sealed away pockets of civilization that people are not allowed to leave. Hacking is alive and well despite pervasive government surveillance, with a lo-fi look to the tech that recalls Darren Aronofsky’s Pi. The two leads are Max (Ian Christopher Noel), a paranoid anti-establishment type whose name might be a reference to Pi, and Simon (Josh Caras), a sellout who takes a job with an Apple/Microsoft analog. A mutual hackeer friend killed himself but left behind a mysterious hard drive.
And then stuff happens, but the events are so thin and so glacially paced that I lost interest pretty early. Jackrabbit s a thriller without thrills.
Even Max and Simon don’t seem too engrossed in the mystery, leisurely plodding from place to place and scene to scene. They meet a friend of their dead friend (I think?) named Grace (Joslyn Jensen), and they hang out with her. They listen to a record and drink some whiskey, and Jackrabbit continues its odd stasis, generating a mood rather than using its mood to help propel a story.
In my notes I wrote, “At least they look like they’re having fun.”
What’s interesting about the VHS impression movies like Jackrabbit and Beyond the Black Rainbow is precisely that disconnect between mood per se and mood in service to or an outgrowth of a story or characters. Jackrabbit is successful at recreating the look and feel of a VHS film, but it exists only as an impression. I remember some images more than I remember the film itself, which might be a testament to the visual sense of the production design and how well shot it is despite its budget limitations.
Yet I don’t think the film is as successful as Beyond the Black Rainbow (which I didn’t even like), which had greater ambition and virtuosity in its images than Jackrabbit. Maybe virtuosity that goes beyond mere impression allows people to mine larger ideas from the succession of images.
Jackrabbit feels like a mere impression, though, both in terms of how vaguely I can recall it and in terms of how it recreates the work of the VHS era. It may have been more memorable if its mood were in service to something other than mood itself. Maybe I want more from a movie than the accurate recreation of the kind of movie I’ll mostly forget about.