The first glimpse of Harlon, Nick Krause's character in "White Rabbit," is one of foreboding: malevolent stare, blackened eye, vampire pallor. The rural drama steps back to trace his degeneration from sensitive child to shotgun-toting teen.
For Harlon, equal parts undiagnosed mental illness and bad-seed Americana, the increasingly desperate story plays out episodically. He's bullied at school and at home, friendless but for a fellow outsider (Ryan Lee) and haunted by a childhood rite of passage, his first time hunting.
He has recurring hallucinations of the bunny that his dissolute father (Sam Trammell) forced him to shoot — not just at close range but with an especially cruel advantage. A few years later, his introduction to strip clubs is just as coerced and almost as traumatic. Harlon isn't tormented by visions of lap dancers as a result, but he regularly conducts conversations with comic-book characters who come to life on the pages.
Neither screenwriter Anthony Di Pietro or director Tim McCann ("Desolation Angels") has a sure grasp of this uneasy mix of nature and nurture. That leaves Krause (who earned plaudits for his sunny chucklehead in "The Descendants") in no-man's land, dramatically speaking. Harlon's rage is convincing, as is his gratitude for the friendship of a fellow cynic (well played by Britt Robertson). But mainly the teen's a cipher.
The sense of place is as strong as the narrative is wobbly. The strongest character is the Louisiana setting. In the overgrown yards and abandoned factories, McCann finds something striking and true — something that isn't reduced, along with the rest of the movie, to a cause-and-effect checklist.
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills. Also on VOD.