Run Rabbit Run Writer on exploring monster motherhood through film [Sundance]

When the Sundance Film Festival kicked off this year, the economic aftermath of the pandemic had many concerned about the state of the independent film industry. It was a relief, then, when you design like Run Rabbit Run it was still bought by distributors like Netflix. The laid-back horror film, which takes place in South Australia and makes excellent use of its setting, is the screenwriting debut of acclaimed author Hannah Kent. Although his novels Burial Rites, The Good People, And Devotion all have film adaptations (two of which he’s also writing) in the works, Run Rabbit Run it is the first time he has written an original story for the cinema.


Run Rabbit Run follows Sarah (played by Succession up-and-coming star Sarah Snook), a mother with unresolved childhood trauma who begins single-handed visits to her daughter Mia (revealing newcomer Lily LaTorre). Mia starts calling herself “Alice,” insists that Sarah isn’t really her mother, and asks to see her grandmother Joan (Greta Scacchi) who suffers from dementia. As Mia begins to drift further apart, Sarah finds herself drawn into the demons of her past with no control over her reality.

Related: The cast talks about the aliens who kidnapped my parents and now I’m feeling a little left out [Sundance]

Screen joke spoke to Kent about how she approached writing an original screenplay rather than a novel, which inspired her Run Rabbit Runthe dark themes of and what he learned about adapting his own work.

Hannah Kent talks about Run Rabbit Run

Mia in Run Rabbit Run

Screen Rant: If I’m not mistaken, is this your first original feature film rather than an adaptation of your novel? What did he do Run Rabbit Run cinematic from the start?

Hannah Kent: I had an initial meeting five or six years ago with the producers. They’d read my books and thought there might be a visual sensibility, so they asked me if I’d ever been interested in writing for the screen. We had this really disastrous pitch meeting where I, not being a screenwriter, pitched all my failed short stories to them. They were super polite and encouraging, and as we were finishing our coffees, they asked me what I was working on. I started talking about this book I had in mind about the experiences of parents whose children bring back past lives; who start talking about other parents and other families they miss. This has been really well documented.

From there, we fell down the proverbial rabbit hole of exploring motherhood and dislocation from one’s children. This then led to what would happen if you yourself had a very traumatic childhood. The conversation evolved very organically, and was always meant for a movie. Whenever we thought about the character, we also thought about the place, which I think is very important in the film. We always kept particular places in mind; the cliffs, for example, would always be there. It was actually a really nice way to work. I think Anna [McLeish] and Sarah [Shaw] it particularly encouraged very open and creative conversations, so it was a wonderful script entry.

I was going to ask about the location, because the visual language is so strong in the film. How close was it to what you originally envisioned and how much were you part of that conversation?

Hannah Kent: An important part. It’s set in South Australia, where I was born and raised. The specific location where we shot a lot of those exterior scenes, once Sarah and Mia get up to see Joan, has those cliffs there that are iconic. My parents grew up in the area, known as Riverland, and I have these wonderful associations with it. It’s so beautiful, and when we thought of a place, we thought of what it’s like to come home. The cliffs were always there; we always knew they would be part of the narrative. They give such a superb aura and are a character in their own right.

It was a joy to do it, but I had to warn my parents. They were really excited that we’d be shooting in their hometown, and I had to say, “It’s a genre film! It’s not going to be a cute, nostalgic look at your childhood.” [Laughs]

Sarah Snook is amazing in this role and I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. But I know that Elisabeth Moss was initially attached and director Dana Reid had worked before. How did Sarah Snook enter the picture?

He brings so much compassion to the character, but also that awful, almost unbearable intensity that he’s just trying to rein in. It was cool when Elisabeth Moss was on the project, but I understand this is the industry and people can’t necessarily make things work. But Sarah is terrific.

Little Mia, played by Lily LaTorre, is also rapidly entering the hallowed rooms of precocious children. I know you’ve been researching real-life incidents, so are there any stories in particular that have inspired you? Or some creepy movie kid you got inspiration from?

Hannah Kent: There are so many creepy kids, but I don’t actually watch horror movies because I’m a huge scary cat. I know there’s a whole archive and museum of creepy kids, but I didn’t necessarily want to go study them.

I think Mia’s character has really developed in parallel with Sarah’s examination and exploration of her mothering experience. We wanted to capture those moments of intimacy and closeness, but at the same time delve into the ambiguities and breakdown of that bond between a mother and daughter. So, I’m aware that she falls into a particular genre of parents who are scared of their children, but that wasn’t necessarily something we were trying to adhere to or incorporate. The writing process and many of the conversations always centered around the character of Sarah.

After Run Rabbit Run, I am very excited about your future films. I know Burial rites it’s been in the works since 2017. Are we any closer to knowing when that will happen?

Hannah Kent: She’s still with TriStar Pictures, [a division of Sony Pictures]. They have the option and I know people are attached, even though I probably can’t talk about it. I think he’s just in that juggling of trying to make everyone’s schedules work but, as far as I know, he’s still moving forward.

You are also working on the scripts for The good people And Devotion. How has this experience influenced your work and how is your career as a screenwriter going?

Hannah Kent: Run Rabbit Run has been a very steep learning curve for me. I talked about the openness and encouragement Anna and Sarah gave me as a first-time writer for the screen, and I remember saying to them, “How do I do it? Is it just dialogue? What are the other things?” But then they said, ‘Write it like a novelist,’ and that was the best advice they could give me.

I still feel like I’m a novelist writing a screenplay rather than a screenwriter. But I feel like the process has been so inclusive, from the conversations with Dana to being able to go to set and see what happened. My understanding of this industry just exploded, so naturally all that experience seeps through my adaptations.

But it’s also very different because I’m so familiar with the material. Instead, it was more about trying not to necessarily look at the original works and discount them, but to understand them. It’s not about what you leave out, it’s about what resonates. So, that was really exciting. It was also a completely different process because it’s less about exploring the characters and crafting them on the page, and more about making sure that the soul of this work is maintained, as we completely change it for the cinema. It’s a thing about him.

You had your premiere and lived it with an audience at Sundance. What were some of your favorite reactions?

Hannah Kent: It was so exciting to be there at the premiere. That was my first time seeing the full movie and I have to say the highlight was during one of the scary moments in the movie. I was hearing someone say, “Oh, no!” It was such a pure fear response that it was truly satisfying.

But it was really wonderful. I think there have been some really great conversations people have had about monster motherhood; about the complexities of motherhood and what happens when you don’t deal with trauma in the present. There are some very complicated and fractured relationships between mothers and daughters, in particular, that I’ve heard of. People, for example, who have experiences of dementia from their mother when an estrangement was already in progress. It was really interesting to hear their response.

I think, with any response to a novel or a film, it always says a lot about people’s experiences and the context they’re bringing to the film. So, that’s interesting.

About Run Rabbit Run

Sarah Snook in Run Rabbit Run

Fertility doctor Sarah starts her beloved daughter Mia’s seventh birthday without expecting anything bad. But as an ominous wind blows, Sarah’s carefully controlled world begins to change. Mia begins to act strangely and a rabbit appears outside their front door – a mysterious birthday present that delights Mia but seems to deeply baffle Sarah. As the days go by, Mia becomes more and more unlike herself, demanding to see Sarah’s hospitalized mother (the grandmother she’s never met before) and fraying Sarah’s nerves as the little girl’s bizarre tantrums begin to direct her. towards Sarah’s dark history. As a ghost from her past reenters Sarah’s life, she struggles to hold on to her estranged young daughter.

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Run Rabbit Run premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 19. The film has a running time of 100 minutes and is not rated yet.

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