The successful surrealism of this directorial debut is overshadowed by its weak performances and inconsistent writing.
From watching her atmospheric horror debut, Rebound, it isn’t difficult to tell that Megan Freels Johnston shows promise as a budding director. Unfortunately, the film does suffer from some of the same issues that many contemporary low-budget genre films suffer from. Rebound is at its best when the characters are silent, committed to action, or interacting with their strange and otherworldly environment. The budget only begins to show when the actors actually have to act, when they have to recite lines from the script and converse with one another in order to propel the storyline forward. Clearly the funds in this film went more toward its production, and their appears to be some talent in the directing and editing, but all its major flaws lie within the performances and the shoddy script they are given to work with.
Rebound follows Claire (Ashley James), a young woman who catches her boyfriend cheating on her and then drives away in a hurry, without a particular destination in mind, in hopes of escaping her current living situation and toxic relationships. Essentially, she’d like to start anew and find happiness elsewhere. However, this is a horror film, not a rom-com, so instead of moving forward, Claire’s journey becomes her downward spiral. The atmosphere of her doomed road trip is almost instantly strange. Early on in the film, she enters a stall at a rest-stop and, after only a few moments, begins to hear a pounding at the door. “Got any toilet paper!?” a distraught woman screams repeatedly from the other end of the stall. This is a moment that will most likely catch audiences off guard, as it is so abrupt and darkly humorous—though in an effectively surreal way—that it forces one to call into question the reliability of the narrator.
If only Johnston, as the screenwriter, would have retained that sense of psychological ambiguity throughout the remainder of the film. What follows instead is a regression into the banality of the modern psycho-killer genre. When Claire’s car breaks down along the side of the road in a rather desolate area, she is brought to a small town by Gus (Wes O’Lee) to meet Eddie (Mark Scheibmeir), the creepy and standoff-ish mechanic who she convinces to fix her car free of charge. Eddie, of course, is hiding some secrets of his own, and so violence ensues. Even in the weaker, latter half of the film (in which character motivations become quite confusing), I admire Johnston and her cinematographer, Stephen Tringali, for their confidence as visual storytellers. For instance, they allow the camera to linger on certain images in order to increase the discomfort of their viewers, and succeed in doing so.
Johnston’s writing does show hints of promise, and even effective humor. In one scene Claire enters a nearly deserted bar during the film’s second act and proceeds to declare to the bartender, “I definitely need a large glass of wine.” These moments of subtle comedic relief tend to work well in atmospheric horror and thrillers. The inconsistency of the writing is the real shame here, for this glimmer of effective humor is immediately followed by the awkward and excessively formal line, “I’m so famished.” The improbability and unrealistic verbiage quickly pulls us out of any rapport built by accidentally clever lines.
All in all, Rebound works as an atmospheric experience but fails as an exercise in narrative horror. Any understanding of why the film’s chief characters are behaving the way that they are goes out the window during the third act. Fortunately, the cinematography and score provide the film with a slight audio-visual saving grace, though not enough to render the film recommendable.