Writer-director Steven Shainberg has an interesting, off-mainstream sensibility – which might explain why he’s not more prolific, managing a feature every five years or so. His last two films were Secretary (2002) and Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006), which both went to quirky extremes. He’s scarcely reined it in for Rupture – a frankly terrrible title for a film, but pertinent to the story – which is at once a more conventional genre film, in that it touches on both torture porn (confinement has always been big in the Shainberg oeuvre) and mad science/mutation, and an uncompromisingly weird charade that has as much crawling around different levels coping with bizarre perils as a computer game and literally strains to expand the envelope of humanity by forcing the heroine to evolve into a superhuman via a Room 101-like experience with spiders instead of rats.
Renee (Noomi Rapace), a Kansas City Mom with a troubled kid and a rat ex-husband, is waylaid en route to a sky-diving session by sinister apparatchiks from an organisation who strap her down in a cell and subject her to a series of cruel tests which have some ulterior purpose. Rich sickos? Alien abductors? A philosophical torture cult a la Martyrs? Government/military/corporate program of evil? Surprisingly, there is an explanation for it all – and a satisfyingly bonkers one. Renee gets out of her restraints and into the ventilation system, which is suspiciously roomy as if it were a maze she was expected to solve as a human lab rat – and spies other abductees being confronted with their worst fears (falls from a great height, the voice of an abusive parent, drowning) and either manifesting strange physical symptoms or not. The experimenters are a strange, intriguing bunch of disparate character actors – Michael Chiklis, Peter Stormare, Kerry Bishé, Ari Millen, Lesley Manville – who come across as kindly or sadistic, though by the script’s lights they should be beyond those character traits, and have a weird compulsion to rub their cheeks against Renee’s skin (and pop contacts to show odd three-pupilled eyes that might be the equivalent of the stiff little fingers of the aliens from The Invaders).
Rapace tries a little too hard to seem ‘normal’ at the outset, though the film is predicated on Renee not being as ordinary as she seems so that’s perhaps appropriate – but a few of the plot twists are so telegraphed it’s hard to believe the heroine is fooled by them (the apparent lack of surveillance in the high-tech prison/scientific complex, for instance, should be a dead giveaway) and there’s an attenuated coda, a little after the manner of the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, that lets Rapace model a new, creepier, sexier look but also seems like a kickstart for a TV series continuation of the story which almost certainly won’t be coming along to tie up all the plot-threads. As in Prometheus and The Girl Who Played With Fire, Rapace gets to display resourcefulness while strapped to a gurney and subjected to uncomfortable medical procedures – though her best moments are in sharp, catty little exchanges with her patronising, mystifying captors, especially as she plays opposite the cool, sinister likes of Manville or Bishé.