Fear of Rain marks the first serious passion project of former actress and newfound writer-director Castille Landon. In her young adult thriller, we hitchhike on the sleuthing pursuits of a schizophrenic Nancy Drew, who is convinced that her neighbour has kidnapped a child and is hiding her in the attic. This time, however, Ned is replaced by fellow classmate Caleb (Israel Broussard from Happy Death Day), who charms Rain Burroughs (Madison Iseman from Annabelle Comes Home, Goosebumps 2) with his cringe-worthy card magic from across a lunch table. In comparison to the cardboard cut-out students who gawk in hallways and brand her as ‘Carrie’, Caleb offers her refuge from this contrived high school environment. And hey, he also believes her suspicions.
As well as being her neighbour, Dani McConnell (Eugenie Bondurant) also happens to be her teacher at school. With her tall and slim frame, she fits the role perfectly, taking the form of a female Slenderman. This is emphasised further by the low and nauseating camera angles from cinematographer Joshua Reis, which in turn make the abduction conspiracy seem all the more plausible and less like a hallucination.
However as the plot thickens, we come to realise that this horror-mystery element acts as a mere backdrop to the more complex relationship between Rain and her parents; played by Katherine Heigl (Knocked up, Grey’s Anatomy) and Harry Connick Jr. (Copycat, Dolphin Tale). As they grapple with their daughter’s schizophrenia, a cinematic intimacy develops, which combines jolty handheld camerawork with claustrophobic close-ups.
Whilst this emerging narrative comes at the cost of any real gripping horror, it shows director Castille Landon’s awareness of how mental illnesses are often falsely portrayed and dramatised for the sake of driving the genre. She reveals how “de-stigmatising mental illness… was the seed of this film”, so it is no wonder that she tackles it with a certain sensitivity. This particularly shines through in Iseman’s sympathetic portrayal of Rain, who brings a more believable and multi-faceted performance to the screen.
Like Brad Anderson’s Fractured, which follows a father’s frantic search for his missing family at a hospital that claims they were never admitted there to begin with, we can’t help but feel the same helplessness in Fear of Rain. As both films handle the topic of psychosis wrapped within a mystery plot, we realise that this tug-of-war between reality and illusion that Ray and Rain experience is likely to be damaging. Ultimately they both depict the devastation of living in a self-delusion, something that can’t be solved by the ‘get well soon’ foil balloons that are prescribed to the characters.
All in all, the film uses an awkward pick-and-mix of worn horror tropes; including cemeteries, bleeding statues, crawling maggots, and creepy doll collections, which end up seeming somewhat misplaced throughout. The false promise of a slasher at the outset also leaves the film stumbling between genres as it progresses. Whilst perseverance brings about some unexpected and rewarding twists in the run up to its conclusion, the film eventually falls short. Its success rests almost exclusively on Iseman’s characterisation. Just as Rain struggles to piece together a reality amidst her schizophrenia, the film’s mental health narrative similarly fights to find its footing in the horror genre.