Look up Rubber on the Internet Movie Database, specifically the genre listings, and you’ll find that it comes under comedy, drama, horror, mystery and science fiction. Quite the collection for a film that has a certain pre-release buzz as being the “killer tyre movie”, yet also indicative of the overkill approach which writer-director Quentin Dupieux has gone for. Essentially Rubber is a movie about a killer tyre - a standard issue slash-and-stalk flick in which the typical human/supernatural psychopath has been replaced with a usually inanimate object - but such a novelty clearly isn’t enough for Dupieux. Having hit upon a cult-ish idea he then decides to overpopulate his film with further weird and/or quirky and/or outlandish digressions.
To illustrate this consider the two framing devices within which the killer tyre plot resides. Rubber opens with a direct address to camera from actor Stephen Spinella, in character, during which he introduces the film as “an homage to no reason”. Which is fair enough, except this sequence begins with a police car driving into various assembled chairs, Spinella getting out of the boot of said police car, some business with a glass of water and the whole “no reason” aspect placed into context through tongue-in-cheek references to the likes of E.T., JFK and The Pianist. Basically it’s trying just that little bit too hard to be weird, quirky and outlandish, as though Dupieux intended to make a ready-made cult movie without the usual organic process of the film finding its own audience.
Much the same can be said of the second framing device, this one involving an audience within the film who watch and comment upon proceedings as they happen. However, this isn’t a cinema audience in the standard sense - as found in Bigas Luna’s Anguish, for example - but rather a ragtag collection of folk (an old guy in a wheel chair, a father and his son, two teenage girls, a couple of geeky film-conscious types, etc.) who are situated within the action and view the tyre and its killing spree through binoculars. Again, there is this sense that Dupieux is trying too hard to be different, although the situation is arguably more damning in this instance given that we repeatedly return to these characters throughout Rubber but never to any discernible effect. Despite some gradual interaction between the strand and the plot involving the tyre, there’s none of the clever post-modern play at work in - to cite the film again - Anguish, but rather the feeling that this is all just padding. Indeed, even at a running time of just 82 minutes, Rubber is incredibly flimsy.
With that said, Dupieux does at least handle the killer tyre elements pretty well. Whilst the idea may appear ridiculous on paper, it comes alive onscreen thanks to some simple anthropomorphisms and the odd bit of clever camera trickery. Dupieux has the tyre breathe, drink, watch TV and even indulge in that slash-and-stalk standard of watching his intended prey take a shower. Furthermore, there arguably isn’t anything wrong with the concept of a killer tyre. After all, so many horror movie villains are essentially interchangeable and devoid of characteristics that swapping a human for a piece of rubber doesn’t really make that much difference. (And if you want to get clever about such things, it’s worth remembering that Michael Myers was referred to simply as ‘the Shape’ in the first two Halloween films.) Of course, the whole inanimate-object-as-source-of-fear idea doesn’t always work, perhaps most notoriously in the 1989 TV movie Amityville: The Evil Escapes and its possessed lamp - one that kills by making things hot and (if I remember rightly) is dispatched simply by being thrown out of a window! - but Rubber is undoubtedly an improvement over that one.
However, is a tyre as psychopath, as opposed to human, creature or supernatural being, enough to sustain a whole feature? Clearly not, or else Dupieux wouldn’t require so much padding (as unnecessary as it is). Any attempts at progression are blighted from utilising such an object and as a result we simply get a tyre that ‘comes to life’, discovers it can kill (initially through crushing smaller objects, then onto exploding larger objects - and people’s heads - using telekinetic powers) and eventually focuses its attentions on a single female, played by Catherine Breillat regular Roxane Mesquida. Ultimately Rubber is a short film extended beyond its natural running time to feature length. It has some minor pleasures - the presence of ageing direct-to-video star Wings Hauser, a sufficient gore content, some nice visuals - but also some fairly major flaws.
Rubber is being released in the UK onto Blu-ray and DVD by Optimum. The Blu-ray is being issued as a dual-layered disc though sadly the transfer is less than satisfactory. Dupieux shot the film digitally (reportedly with the video function on a stills camera) which explains the lack of grain in the image, but not the heavy edge-enhancement, the prevalence of ‘jaggies’ and an overall waxen look that remains throughout meaning that detail and clarity are minimal despite the lack of any dirt or damage. Thankfully the soundtrack fares better - especially as it proves integral to Rubber and the manner in which it brings the tyre to life - offering nothing in the way of discernible flaws and providing both LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD 5.1 options. English subtitles for the hard of hearing are also available.
Special features are limited with little, if anything, here that you would call essential. Interviews are present with Dupieux and three of his leads, the former of which provides some insights (but is hampered again by a forced quirkiness, in this case the fact that the interview is ‘conducted’ by a blow-up doll) whilst the latter never rises above the standard of an EPK. Elsewhere there is also the theatrical trailer (see below) and some test footage, although this last piece amounts to only 47 seconds worth of material and as such is of little consequence.