You can’t help but to notice during the first half of “Rabbit Punch” how the camera frames Job, the main character. He’s shown by himself through both close-up and wide shots and when other are in frame they’re blurry and out of focus. This sense of isolation in the first half of film establishes how we should see Job, creating a feeling of claustrophobia.
The only time that this mood is altered is during the first scene where we see Job getting bullied and later when he is abused by his father. This sets the tone for the first two acts: whenever he isn’t alone, he’s in an environment of hostility. But what really sells the audience on this intense feeling, aside from the cinematography, is Jordan Wendl’s performance. Even without speaking, through Wendl’s stunning performance, you can sense the intense, yet reserved emotions that are building up inside Job.
Most of the actors perform tremendously. Brian Darwin Taylor does a great job of showing, in so little time, both a man suffering from the trauma of war as well as an agitated, spiteful abuser. Wil Johnson as Trav plays not only a man who is lost, but exhibits an image of what Job’s father would be like, had he not been so broken. And all in the span of ten minutes. Ciaran Griffiths as Dylan isn’t really given much with the role but still uses it to his advantage, usually finding a way to bounce off of Trav’s remarks.
However, Rabbit Punch doesn’t set itself up as a tragedy or a ‘downward-spiral’ sort of story. Instead, it is a quite hopeful film, even with a happy ending. The second act, when Job runs away from home to a local boxing gym, adds more distinct characters into the frame along with Job. There are still closeups, but medium shots as well. As he starts to tear down his inner walls, more people welcomed into frame. Unfortunately, while the film may be considered as two parts, the overall flow might be a bit different than one would expect.
Unlike the title and running time may presume, “Rabbit Punch”isn’t a fast-paced sports drama. Instead, it’s a slow burn of a character piece on a young refugee. There’s only two fight sequences; the scuffle at the beginning and the boxing scene right before the third act. The beginning fight scene is short and given a distant glance. The boxing scene, though we get more of a longer, intense fight, is not edited to match the intensity.
All in all, I would give “Rabbit Punch” a watch. There are quite a few problems, including altering a bit of factual information, which might come as a raise flags for those who look for accuracy and know the origin of the story. But the pros outweigh the cons. Everyone brings their A-game, even those with little material. And as far as fifteen minute films go, it feels quite balanced: neither too long to overstay its welcome, nor too short to feel like things are missing.
The film was directed by Keith Farrell, whose body of work is mostly tied to documentaries by the BBC. And while there are quite a few mistakes, it still goes above and beyond from someone who’s not familiar with the style. I would certainly recommend everyone be on the lookout for Farrell’s future work.
Written by Patrick Guilford.