“Am I crazy or is this really happening?” is by now a fairly familiar hook for thrillers. But Castille Landon’s “Fear of Rain” gets some fresh mileage from it by embedding us in the perspective of a teenager diagnosed with schizophrenia — and whose worries are thus dismissed as delusional when she decides a next-door neighbor is up to something nefarious.
Middling at best in terms of suspense mechanics, and not the most perceptive treatment of mental illness you’ll ever see, this nonetheless compels interest as a well-acted drama-cum-mystery whose heroine (like the kid in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”) has some unique challenges to her amateur sleuthing. Lionsgate is releasing the feature to available theaters and on demand Feb. 12.
Hopes are not raised particularly high by the opening, that stock horror trope of a panicked, barefoot young woman being chased through woods by some shadowy bogeyman — nor when Rain Burroughs (Madison Iseman) wakes up from what is just a nightmare to find herself restrained in a hospital psych ward bed. But things get more interesting once we realize this is the culmination of escalating psychiatric disorders that have already removed her from school for some time, and are a cause of intense concern for her parents (Katherine Heigl, Harry Connick Jr.).
When she’s taken home, she begins to recall elements of the paranoid hysteria that most recently saw her trashing her own room and attacking Dad. She admits to her shrink (Enuka Okuma) that the ever-changing cocktail of meds she’s on make her “feel like a zombie,” thwarting her ability to paint — art being the one reliably healthy, satisfying outlet in Rain’s life. But she promises to stick with the pharmaceutical program, lest another uptick in symptoms lead to longterm institutionalization.
That’s not so easy, however, in large part because Rain is seldom fully in control of her own emotions, actions, or even what she sees and hears. (Landon utilizes lots of shifty, obscured POV shots as well as murmurous sound effects to convey the delusions that frequently cloud our heroine’s grasp on reality.) Returning to high school doesn’t help much, as everyone seems to know she’s been hospitalized for psychosis. Erstwhile friends now shun Rain, crassly and childishly treating her “crazies” like cooties.
One good thing is the unexpected companionship of classmate Caleb (Israel Broussard from both “Happy Death Day” movies), a slightly nerdy new arrival who harbors no such prejudices. But he’s so nice, she fears he might not even be real; in fact, her parents assume he’s another imaginative figment. Nonetheless, no one save Caleb is willing to take seriously Rain’s conviction that English teacher Mrs. McConnell (Eugenie Bondurant) is harboring a presumably-kidnapped child in her house next door. That lady has limited tolerance for being harassed by an unstable student, however. She warns the Burroughs that if the police get involved, Rain just might find herself court-ordered to a rubber room after all.
There’s only one way a “Rear Window”-esque crime premise like this is bound to go: toward confirming exactly what the crying-wolf protagonist has frantically warned everyone about all along. But “Fear of Rain” wisely pays less attention to its rather desultory mystery elements than to the often much-more-immediate problems of Rain’s illness, which can be tempered (sometimes) but not cured.
While she plays this protagonist sympathetically, Iseman doesn’t stint on the alarming, manic outbursts an idée fixe can whip Rain into with fearsome rapidity. And if it doesn’t handle the conventional thriller aspects with great finesse or plausibility, Landon’s screenplay proves deft in terms of incorporating that impaired perception into the narrative structure. When we find out just who or what in Rain’s world really is just delusion, the answer is not what we’d expected.
Connick and Heigl also contribute strong turns as parents whose individual resources (and marriage) have frayed from clashing approaches to a near-constant family crisis. Broussard brings humor and warmth to a figure that might’ve easily become a stock “Junior Mister Right,” while other support turns are solid.
Shot in some of the more pleasant suburban enclaves of Central Florida, “Fear of Rain” is accomplished in its design and technical assembly, though its tricky storytelling necessarily takes precedence over any stab at flamboyant surface style. Though not everything works here, this is still an admirable leap into new terrain for actress turned writer-director Landon, whose two prior features in that mode were both horsey family features (“Apple of My Eye,” “Albion: The Enchanted Stallion”).