Here's a sentence I never thought I'd have to write: this may well be the only telekinetic killer tyre movie you'll ever need. Rubber is an undeniably attention-grabbing calling card for debut director Quentin Dupieux (more familiar to many as French electro legend Mr Oizo), its bizarre high concept only hinting at the reams of anarchic absurdity it contains. The film plays like a rubber monster movie where, in a stroke of literal-minded genius, the monster is actually meant to be a piece of rubber. What's not to love?

Dupieux's surreal intentions are made clear by Lynchian framing episodes, where we meet a pontificating sheriff and play privy to a bizarre 'test screening' in the desert. The subject of the audience's attention turns out to be a discarded tyre, submerged in the sand. Its birth pangs and baby steps are sweetly comic: rising up and shaking itself off, rolling a few feet before falling back onto its side. We follow as it explores its environment, amusingly twee music and the jaunty camerawork giving these early scenes some real bounce. Its first encounter with another inanimate object is handled whimsically, the tentative attempts to communicate with a plastic bottle eliciting an unforced mirth you wouldn't imagine possible in depicting the interaction of two pieces of trash. Gradually, the sentient ring starts to reveal a darker nature, the discovery of its own destructive power dawning on it as it crosses paths with other denizens of the dustbowl.

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At first, the tyre seems like it could be an animal, or even a child, but as its exposure to humans increases, the film mines a rich seam of humour from its gradual anthropomorphing. The style and conventions of both monster and serial killer movies are hilariously adopted, with the tyre stalking females in Psycho-style motels and sneaking around the fringes of the frame, looming large in some shots so that its markings resemble the skin of a Godzilla-like Goliath. All of this is coupled with arrestingly gorgeous cinematography and excellent sound design; the first time you hear the noises building up to the tyre's attacks, you're guaranteed to be crippled with laughter. The soundtrack (partially by the director under his Mr Oizo alias) manages to make the film endearing early on, skilfully building to satirically menacing stabs of electronic noise as the rolling threat grows more aggressive.

All of this is increasingly undermined by the postmodern intrusions of some of the characters: their presence is initially quirky enough to work, holding a mirror up to ourselves and the movie-making experience, but they start to detract from the 'story' around the midway mark. All the actors toe a fine line in deadpan delivery, wringing sly shards of humour from their self-reflective observations; Wings Hauser is a particular delight as a canny and resilient vet who gets ever closer to the action.

Those involved with the main story are even better, Roxanne Mesquida bringing the spunk and wisely undercutting the escalating madness, while Devin Brochu shines as the disaffected kid who in classic horror film convention first clicks to the tyre's intentions, and eventually tries to bond with it in scenes of gloriously charming dry wit. Eventually however, even though the thrill of watching people's heads explode wears thin eventually, the ironic asides grow even more teeth-gnashingly grating and threaten to overwhelm the audience with their 'nudge nudge, wink wink' smugness.

The film recovers from these particular indulgences towards the end, with a wonderfully cheeky climax ending the film on a suitably apocalyptic and somehow impossibly cute note. Many will feel Rubber is a short student film stretched to breaking point and past it, but if you can tune into its whacked-out world-view it should have you smiling all the way through. Dupieux has concocted a winning embodiment of and tribute to the idea of 'no reason' in cinema, taking the random nature of many cult classics (here explained directly to the audience by the characters) and running riot with it.

While the 'narrative' will sag for many in the middle, there are streaks of joyous invention flowing right through the movie, and if nothing else it is absolutely in a field of its own. It's definitely worth staying for the credits as well, not only for Oizo's invigoratingly unhinged electro finally taking full flight, but to see how the film's 'star' is represented on the cast list. It's almost enough to make you pine for a sequel, but no matter what Dupieux does next, it will have to go some way to out-barmy this unique and lovable confection.

Reviewed on: 20 Mar 2011
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Rubber packshot
Rubber is just an ordinary tyre, but one day he develops intelligence and telekinetic powers. Horrified by what he discovers about the fate of other tyres, he sets out on an implacable quest for revenge.
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Director: Quentin Dupieux

Writer: Quentin Dupieux

Starring: Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, Roxane Mesquida

Year: 2010

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France

Festivals:

Glasgow 2011

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