DISCLAIMER: This post contains spoilers. The fact that this is a movie about a killer tire should tell you all you need to know to decide whether to keep reading, or go watch the movie first (or save your sanity, and go do literally anything else).
There’s only one thing I might enjoy more than a good story: a horrifically bad one. Maybe it’s because a bad story lets me turn my brain off (as if that wasn’t my default state, ha!) and have a laugh. Or maybe it’s just that, as a writer, it’s encouraging to witness other creators’ utter failures. You can’t help but tell yourself “hey, if this book/movie/presidential debate actually happened despite being so bad, maybe I’ve got a shot, too.”
This means, of course, that I have a soft spot for B-movies, especially horror ones. So when, a few months ago, a colleague suggested I watch Rubber, a film about a killer tire, my interest was piqued. This was totally the kind of movie I’d want to see based on the premise alone, so I made a mental note of it, and finally got around to watching the film during Thanksgiving weekend.
I was kind of psyched for this one: if this film was only half as crazy as its premise, I thought, it could be one of the funniest things I’d see this year. And even if it wasn’t, it still probably would be one of the funniest things I’d see this year. How could I go wrong?
Well, Rubber is – or was, at least, until a couple days ago – the most frustrating film I’d ever seen.
It was frustrating because I didn’t know what the hell to make of it. Part of it was that there are really two movies in Rubber, which is impressive for a film clocking in at a lean 82 minutes.
First is a weird B-movie about a killer tire, which is what Rubber advertises itself as, and what I presume most viewers, myself included, are signing up to watch.
And then, there is an even more bizarre side plot involving an audience, camped out in the desert where the movie is set. In fact, the film pretty much begins with said audience, right after a fourth wall-breaking speech from Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella, whom I knew from, erm, Desperate Housewives. It was a good show, OK? Stop fucking judging.)
Indeed, the first few minutes of Rubber are devoted to a speech explaining that the film is a homage to the concept of “No Reason”. For me, this wasn’t a great first impression: it felt much too on-the-nose, like the movie trying to justify its raison d’être (or lack thereof), and I couldn’t help but feel that this sequence could have been cut entirely, and the film wouldn’t have suffered at all for it. Don’t tell me stuff will happen for no reason; just show me crazy shit that happens for no reason. I’ll get it. Probably.
Then comes the introduction to our killer tire protagonist (antagonist? Not clear.) Now, nothing really happens here except the gratuitous murder of a scorpion 12 minutes in, but I was fascinated by the convincing “tire rolling on its own” visuals. A quick search on IMDB.com indicates that these were practical effects achieved with remote controls and such, and I say kudos to the team in charge of said effects.
I particularly enjoyed the following scene, when the tire tries unsuccessfully to crush a beer bottle before exploding it with psychic powers. I found this to be an effective demonstration/exposition of the tire’s powers; it didn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence by having, for instance, a character say something along the lines of: “Look! This tire has psychic powers!”
That’s right, this next bit with the audience extolls on the tire’s telepathic prowess, and showcases an awkward anti-piracy message (not that I would ever do that!) At this point, this scene further proved to me that these segments were not instrumental to this movie. This feeling only intensified when, close to 20 minutes in, we got a third sequence with audience (them waking up after spending a night camping in the desert) which pretty much convinced me this was nothing but a superfluous subplot.
Yeah, we’ll get back to that.
Cue more scenes with the sentient tire: it drinking from a puddle (not the weirdest thing in this movie), the gratuitous murder of a rabbit (we clearly have a pattern of animal abuse here), and the weirdest scene for someone watching in 2020: some dude using a pay phone. I mean, come on, this film is from 2010; did people still use pay phones in 2010? (Answer: irrelevant, it just fits the general retro vibe of the film, dumbass).
Then, at 28 minutes in, Robert (yes, the tire is called Robert) finally makes its first human kill; namely the guy who was using a pay phone, because fuck you, boomer. And then it starts… stalking a woman? Sure, bring it. This is exactly the kind of surreal schlock we signed up for! Too bad we have to cut again to the insufferable audience.
We are now 34 minutes into the movie, and a guy in glasses, who serves as some sort of handler for the audience, slaughters a turkey and brings it to his charges, who have been out in the desert with no food for two days at this point. They all (well, all but one) jump on it, tearing it apart and grossly eating it. Now, at that moment, I think “oh, so it’s a commentary on the animalistic tendencies of humans.” At least, no one in the movie blatantly comments on that-
Seriously? COME ON!
Even more than the introduction sequence, this felt way too much on-the-nose. At this point, all of the “audience” segments seemed so unnecessary that I started entertaining the idea of creating my own edit of the film to keep only the “killer tire” segments, and see if that flowed better. And for a while, it seemed like this could work: the movie goes on to assemble a neat little archetypal cast of characters around a desert motel: the cleaning lady who’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, the kid who’s aware of the live tire locked up in room 16, and the crass, disbelieving asshole motel proprietor who’s having none of it, and who ends up getting a roadkill pizza (don’t ask).
There’s another character who’s having none of it, though: fourth wall-breaking Lieutenant Chad. You see, Lieutenant Chad is fed up with this killer tire nonsense, and he clearly doesn’t want to be there. A little after the film’s midway point, he gathers his officers as they’re picking up the cleaning lady’s headless corpse, and tells them that they’re done: no one’s watching anymore, he says.
Yep, the turkey was poisoned, and all the members of the audience now lie dead. All except the Man in the Wheelchair (no name given), that is, as he didn’t eat.
And so the show must go on, since there is still someone watching. There’s a few plot twists and turns as Lieutenant Chad continues reluctantly playing along with the script, until a tense standoff involving the tire and a mannequin strapped with explosives (it makes sense in context). Cue the Man in the Wheelchair, who suddenly shows up and complains about the setup: why don’t the cops use a flamethrower, or something?
An exasperated Lieutenant Chad goes to confront Robert off-screen, and resolves the situation with a couple of shotgun blasts. He comes back holding the limp, shredded remnants of the killer tire. Game over. The end.
Or is it?
No it’s not, because the Man in the Wheelchair is still there, demanding a better ending. Because there’s always at least one, isn’t there? The unsatisfied fan; someone who isn’t buying it, who’s not drinking the proverbial Cool-Aid (or eating the turkey, as it were). The one who thinks this ending sucks, and that they could totally do better, and how dare the writers end it like this, after such a great buildup.
I would know; I was one of these people for the final seasons of Game of Thrones and Dexter, amongst others.
And what happens to this annoying “fan”? The tire, reincarnated as a tricycle (why? No reason!) kills him via explosive telekinetic disintegration, of course. Because after all, what creator hasn’t ever dreamt of killing their audience, at least once?
This is what I came to realize, a few days ago; that this is a movie about making a movie. It’s about audience expectations, and about how, sometimes, as a creator, you just want to write a stupid story about a killer tire. Some viewers want the exact same thing. They will eat it all up, and those are the easiest to please, of course; their attention span will likely not last until the end anyway, so who cares if the story is any good, if the ending is satisfying or not. You can half-ass it, and they’ll be none the wiser.
But then there’s the other segment of the audience, the ones who are never satisfied. Those who, even if you didn’t half-ass it, even after you’ve poured your heart and soul into a project, still want more.
And there will be more, promises this movie, with an all-out invasion of killer tires (led by a tricycle).
Well, not really, because this came out in 2010 and there’s still no sequel. But that wasn’t the point. The point, to me, was that as long as there’s an audience, there are stories to be told. And that’s like, really deep, man. Much more so than I expected from this movie, at least.
In retrospect, what happened was a total disconnect between my expectations and the movie itself. Here I was expecting a silly, straightforward, B-movie schlock fest about a killer tire, and instead ended up watching a film that made me think. And that’s cool. I like being surprised, even if I need to take a week or two to digest said surprise. Well played, movie. Well played indeed.
So do I recommend Rubber? Hell yeah I do, with the following caveats: 1. You should not watch this movie sober, and 2. If you’re expecting a dumb B-movie about a killer tire, you might end up with much, much more than you bargained for.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some leftover Thanksgiving turkey to eat.