Cinemagoers have become accustomed to the idea of faceless movie serial killers thanks to the bemasked likes of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface, and the assorted knife-wielding maniacs of the Scream franchise. But the new film Rubber (which is currently available on VOD and hits theaters on April 1) features a murderer who is also lacking arms, legs, and a body. In fact, the movie’s villain is a discarded car tire that, for reasons which are never even remotely explained, comes to life in the California desert and starts making people’s heads explode with his psychokinetic powers. (We know the tire is male because he is credited as “Robert” in the end credits.)
This incredibly bizarre, utterly unforgettable, movie was made by French director and techno musician Quentin Dupieux, who reveals that he mostly eschewed CGI trickery to create his unique killer. “80 percent of what you see onscreen is a puppet,” he says. “There’s a guy off-frame operating the tire with two fingers. And we used a remote control tire for the rolling scenes. There’s nothing incredible about a tire rolling, if you think about it. It’s a tire. It’s supposed to roll!”
Dupieux first found fame with a 1999 ad for Levi’s in which an adorable yellow puppet called “Flat Eric” winningly bopped his head to the sound of a Dupieux-penned electronica track. The commercial was hugely successful in Europe and a spin-off single called “Flat Beat” (which Dupieux released under his techno moniker “Mr. Oizo”) was a No. 1 hit in the U.K. Flush with cash, Dupieux decided to self-finance 2002’s experimental Nonfilm, about the production of a movie that carries on despite the lead actor accidentally killing the crew. “They decide to keep on doing the film,” says Dupieux. “There’s no camera. No crew. There’s just people in the desert. It’s a bit like Rubber, but more disturbing.”
Dupieux’s first proper feature was 2007’s sci-fi comedy Steak. The film proved a commercial disaster despite starring the huge-in-France double act of Eric Judor and Ramzy Bedia. “They’re really nice, but they usually do big s—ty comedies,” says the director. “The distributor in France said, ‘Okay, we have these two guys, we’re going to make it huge. Let’s put it in 500 theaters.’” Dupieux says that decision was a huge mistake. “Steak is a strange movie,” he explains. “I saw it a few times with an audience, and each time, at least 10 or 15 people left after 20 minutes, which was not really pleasant. One day I arrived late and the movie was rolling along, but nobody was in the room. I had a shock, like, ‘Wow, my movie is alone. Nobody’s watching, but it’s still running!’”
The experience helped inspire the English language Rubber, which stars Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, and Wings Hauser and cost $800,000. The killer tire plotline is the spine of a film within the film being viewed by an audience who have gathered in the desert. Actually, the “film within the film” is more of a “theater piece within the film,” although this distinction ultimately becomes irrelevant to the audience, most of whom are fatally poisoned for reasons that, once again, remain unexplained. (Did we mention this movie is incredibly strange?) “Obviously we can find a lot of interpretation of the poison,” says the filmmaker. “Like, ‘Oh, yeah, Hollywood is poisoning the audience.’ Think whatever you want. I just did it because I got bored with the characters: ‘Okay, f— them, let’s poison them.’”
Dupieux is similarly unsentimental about the three tires that were used to depict his killer. “I have one in my basement here [in New York], and we have two in Paris,” he says. “But I don’t f—ing care about the tire. I have the original Flat Eric puppet at home and I love him. Flat Eric is cute. The tire is just dirty.”
You can check out the trailer for Rubber below.
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