Posted: 03/22/2011




by Kyle Barrowman

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This past weekend, at the fifth annual Sci-Fi Spectacular at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, the ambitious English-language debut from writer-director Quentin Dupieux, Rubber, enjoyed its Midwest premiere. Originally premiering at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Rubber is still making the rounds at countless international film festivals, picking up a cult following wherever it travels. The “plot” of this film centers on a killer tire named Robert. Upon discovering his considerable telepathic capabilities (which allow him to summon the power to explode people’s heads à la Scanners) Robert rolls a path of homicidal destruction through an unsuspecting desert town. As the body count rises, the local police force, led by Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella), set out to stop the carnage.

The twist comes in the form of Dupieux’s fascination with metafiction. Put simply, metafiction is the process whereby, within the story world, storytelling devices are acknowledged and toyed with, the “illusion of reality” sought by classical narratives intentionally destroyed. In Rubber, the meta aspect comes in the form of the “spectators,” as they are referred to in the film, who are watching the hunt for Robert just like we are. Sitting in the desert and watching with binoculars, the spectators drive the action, and until the “story” ends or the spectators die, the “characters,” from Robert to his victims to the police hunting him, have no choice but to continue going through the motions. Spinella is the only one in the story who knows everything is fictional, and, irritated by the ridiculousness of a story about a killer tire, he conspires to kill the spectators so he can go home and put a stop to the lunacy.

This type of filmmaking is not for everybody, but it is such a fun ride that you would be doing yourself a disservice if you did not at least watch the film and see for yourself whether or not you think it works. As far as metafilmmaking is concerned, I think it would be hard to argue that there exists a better example of metahorror than Wes Craven’s Scream franchise, and Rubber takes its position alongside that franchise as a brilliant example of metafilmmaking. I must note, however, that the comparison drawn between Rubber and the Scream franchise only goes so far. The genius of the Scream films is their ability to simultaneously represent genre filmmaking at its finest as well as quintessential genre parodies. Rubber, on the other hand, does not attempt to oscillate between serious genre film and carefree parody. It does not have the same ambitions as the Scream films, and to that end, does not suffer the same kind of schizophrenia as recent metafilms like Zombieland and Kick-Ass. Rubber has a strong sense of identity; Dupieux knew what he was going for right from the beginning, and he never strays from his prime directive: Take the horror genre and make it hilarious.

For hardcore horror fans and viewers receptive to metafiction, Rubber is must-see cinema, and for those on the fence, I cannot in good conscience do anything but recommend this film to you, as well. It is entirely possible that this film inspires hate from viewers that do not “get it,” viewers that do not appreciate the metafictional mischief and cannot accept a story about a sentient tire that blows people’s heads up, but I believe this film is good enough that it deserves to be seen regardless of the eventual response. This is a film that needs to be seen, needs to be experienced, and needs to be engaged, and speaking as someone that was initially on the fence, I am now unable to do anything but praise this clever and inventive metafilm.

Five exploding heads out of five.

Kyle Barrowman is the Senior Editor of Film Monthly. He is studying film theory and criticism in Chicago.

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