How would you cope if your child began to act completely out of character; and started to talk about a previous life? This question sits at the core of Run Rabbit Run, where the fearless voice of the Australian novelist Hannah Kent wanted to explore the tragedy of a mother losing connection to her young daughter, as well as the collision between the logic of an adult’s mind and the willingness of a child to leap beyond the rational.
“It’s about the suffering and the grief that you experience when you lose that connection with your own child. As well as the suffering linked to unresolved parental trauma,” says Kent, whose screenplay would never have been possible without a trip to the small country town of Waikerie. When she started writing the screenplay, the Riverland region of her home state spoke to her. “Watching the movie, and seeing how they’ve managed to capture so much of the beauty of the Riverland it gave me a joy I didn’t really anticipate,” she said.
In Run Rabbit Run a doctor is frightened by her young daughter’s inexplicable memories of a past identity. As a fertility doctor, Sarah has a firm understanding of the cycle of life: you are born, you live, and then you die. That’s it. But when she is forced to make sense of the increasingly strange behaviour of her young daughter Mia, Sarah must challenge her own beliefs and confront a ghost from her past.
‘Run Rabbit Run’ is now streaming on Netflix.
The Producers felt Kent’s writing style had a unique and particular visual quality; perfect for the screen
Carver Films is one of Australia’s longest-running independent development and production companies,
run by joint-founders and award-winning producers Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw, to make film and
television with global reach.
“We met Hannah back in 2014′” recalls producer Sarah Shaw. “We were huge fans of her award-winning novel Burial Rites, which had already been optioned, and we noticed that she was a Melbourne-based writer, and so had a casual catch-up with her and asked about her interest in experimenting with other forms of writing.”
“Hannah Kent had published her first novel Burial Rites but had never written a screenplay before. She loves film, and she’s quite a voracious consumer of different films as well as being a successful author,” adds producer Anna McLeish.
“So we approached Hannah off the back of the success of her first novel and asked if she was interested in writing an original screenplay for the first time.”
However, the meeting didn’t get off to a flying start. “We had coffee and I prepared these – in retrospect – very terrible pitches based on failed short stories of mine, which they listened to with utmost patience,” recalls Kent. “And then at the end Sarah and Anna very politely said, ‘well, you know, if anything else comes to mind, give us a call.’
“And as we were finishing our coffees, I started telling them about another novel that I was considering writing: about the experiences of parents whose children had started to report previous lives. “I’d seen this amazing documentary that focused on children who remembered other families or spoke of previous experiences; and I was always curious about what that would be like as a parent, to have your child start to talk about another mother, another father.”
Intrigued by this bizarre phenomenon, Kent, McLeish, and Shaw continued to dabble and engage in the premise of the plot, but it was Screen Australia’s ‘Gender Matters’ initiative that helped launch the brewing idea into story development and into what would become Kent’s first original screenplay, and the third feature film of the Screen Australia initiative to go into production.
“Hannah’s words brought to life the terror of seeing your child grow further apart from you,” says
Shaw. “While this is a psychological thriller, I think the horror in losing your child to the ghost of your
past is, even more, confronting and haunting to watch.”
And while Kent’s protagonist Dr. Sarah Gregory watches in horror as her life unravels and the terrible truths of the past are brought to light, she in turn is watched by the ethereal presence of a white rabbit.
“I think rabbits are always hugely creepy in films,” explains Kent. “I think there are some on-screen staples of creepiness, and rabbits are definitely up there; alongside terrifying children’s pictures, masks, rivers and isolated farmsteads.”
Sarah’s constructed life of stability and control is like wearing a mask to conceal the trauma of her past. This concept of a mask is not totally foreign in everyday motherhood and was a core element that the production wanted to explore.
“Society asks you to have a certain mask on,” explains McLeish. “To be able to carry and juggle the load
of having children, being what a mother is ‘supposed’ to be; which is usually pretty well-behaved and having all your shit together.”
But what happens when the ‘mask’ slips, and a perfect, put-together & functioning life begins to crack?
“This story shows the darker side of motherhood and femininity that a lot of women go through, but
doesn’t get explored as much,” McLeish continues. “That was something wonderful for us to dive into
and definitely made the project more appealing.”
A vastly different process to crafting a novel, Kent was in new and foreign territory when green-lit to
create her first screenplay, which requires a collaborative, evolving, and raw approach to writing.
“That process of showing first drafts to people, of having these kinds of editorial discussions right from
the outset was terrifying for me because I’m used to that buffer of time and the opportunity to rewrite,”
“Coming back and having to be so vulnerable and to present stuff whilst knowing that it’s not there yet
and that it needs so much work, was challenging for me as a person; but I think it made me stop being
such a perfectionist. It made me recognise that a screenplay is a malleable narrative right until the very
“It was a massive step for her to put herself out there with her work so early on,” adds McLeish.
“We’re very used to seeing script drafts that are rough as guts; but for an author, usually the process is
quite the opposite. They spend a very long time going through all their drafts on their own. It was really quite a radical shift in process for Hannah and she just dived in there, trusted us, and just embraced that wholeheartedly.”
Script development was supported by Screen Australia, VicScreen, and the South Australian Film
With script development underway and initial funding secured, the Carver team now needed the
perfect director to guide and craft the script onto the screen.
Having previously worked with Daina Reid on the award-winning Sunshine for SBS TV (and winning the
2017 AACTA Award for Best Miniseries), the Carver team kept in contact with the Emmy- nominated director – who had since worked on the likes of The Handmaid’s Tale, The Outsider, and Space Force.
The trauma experienced by three generations of the Gregory family is central to Run Rabbit Run. To
bring this on screen, Carver worked again with casting director Allison Meadows. Sarah Snook – an Adelaide native – was busy winning critical acclaim with her portrayal of Shiv in the HBO series Succession, and had previously worked with Reid on the 2015 ABC TV series The Secret River
A chain of events triggers the unraveling of a long-buried secret for Dr Sarah Gregory, and we can only
watch in horror as the ghost of her past threatens to consume her.
For writer Hannah Kent, it was paramount to show how hard Sarah fights to keep her life together and
refuses to concede to the traumas of the past; all while her grip on reality is being slowly eroded like a
water-filled hole on the beach.
“Sarah’s journey throughout the film is from stability and a desire for control to complete chaos,” Kent
says, “and a complete surrender to her inability to control essentially her own emotions but also her
own past, her own trauma.”
Snook worked closely with Reid to find a way to show Sarah’s churning inner turmoil.
“It’s such a tough journey emotionally,” says Reid. “We had to rip away every single defense that character has and deal with what all the new truths coming up would be like. It was hard and very confronting. With all that Sarah has to deal with, how does she remain her ‘better self’?
With support from the Screen Australia Gender Matters initiative, Run Rabbit Run is among the very few feature films to have a female majority for the production’s heads of department
“We were really fortunate with Run Rabbit Run that we had some incredible female heads of department,” says Sarah Shaw. “I think the Gender Matters initiative was incredible for so many women at the time. It was really great to see a celebrated and successful writer in Hannah Kent, be supported because of the strength of her idea, and see it transitioning to the screen. We’re all collectively very grateful for that opportunity.”
“I was really excited and happy to see so many women on set,” adds Snook, “not just in the creative and
top-tier positions of producing, directing, and DOP, but also in the production crew.
And fittingly for a story so deeply connected to the challenges and expectations of motherhood, most
of these women behind the film are working mothers as well.
Reid furthers this point: “Run Rabbit Run is a unique take on the genre by offering a female perspective and exploration of themes such as motherhood, guilt and the female psyche. Sarah is a working mum. It’s the ground zero of guilt for so many of us. Sarah’s guilt is intensified, by parenting her young daughter Mia on her own. How do you juggle the needs of a child with your need for personal fulfillment and financial security? What is the balance, how do you get it right?”
“You see a mother walking a pram down the street, she looks like a natural, that she was born for it. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Statement from director Daina Reid
Run Rabbit Run is a modern-day ghost story. The increasingly strange behaviour of her young daughter Mia acts as a catalyst for the emerging, unstoppable trauma of Sarah’s past resurfacing.
All of us, on occasion, have woken in the morning with a creeping sense of dread. An unexplained sense of some close-at-hand doom over which we have no control. There is no reason for it. The day may be free of worry, the tasks at hand not insurmountable. And yet there it lurks, grey and prickling. Resistant to our feeble attempts to chase it away with a flinging of curtains or a fresh cup of tea.
Could it be our subconscious surging up as we sleep, vulnerable to its assault, reminding us of all the
questionable things we have done, who we have crossed, all our transgressions, foibles, and mistakes?
The only way to get rid of it is to do better, be good. Assert control. Carry on. Chase away the demon.
Bury the ghost.
In Run Rabbit Run, protagonist Sarah Gregory must confront her ghost – and in doing so, herself. I’m
so very excited to share this story with audiences. The potency of grief, guilt and fear manifesting into
something otherworldly was an exciting challenge, both thematically and visually.
Run Rabbit Run is a unique take on the genre, offering a female perspective and exploration of themes
such as motherhood, guilt, and the female psyche. The otherworldly or ‘reincarnation’ elements also
work to heighten and embrace the film’s genre framework.
The jeopardy lies in Sarah’s emotional confrontation and eventual acceptance of her ghosts, in order
to move forward and be the best mother to Mia. It is this ultimate acceptance of our imperfections
and failings that I hope an audience will relate and connect to.
DAINA REID – Director
Daina Reid began her film career as a comedy writer and actor before making the move behind the camera. Daina is in post-production on her feature Run Rabbit Run. Recent US work includes The Shining Girls (Apple) sand The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu). Daina directed The Outsider (HBO), Upload (Amazon), Space Force (Netflix), and David Makes Man (OWN/Warner Television), which won the 2020 Peabody Award in the Entertainment category.
In Australia, Daina directed the series remake of the classic film Romper Stomper (Stan); Sunshine (SBS), a 4-part miniseries set in Melbourne’s South Sudanese community that won the 2017 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Award (Best Telefeature or Miniseries) and the Australian Directors Guild (ADG) Award for Best Direction of a TV Miniseries. Daina directed the mini-series adaptation of The Secret River. In 2017, Daina received the Michael Carson Award at the Australian Directors’ Guild Awards, in recognition of her excellent contribution to TV Drama Directing. In 2019, Daina was presented with the
Fred Schepisi Award for Significant Achievement in Directing by Film Victoria.
HANNAH KENT – Writer
Hannah Kent’s first novel, the multi-award-winning international bestseller, Burial Rites, was translated
into over 30 languages and is being adapted for film. Her second novel, The Good People was translated into 10 languages, nominated for numerous awards, and is also being adapted for film. Devotion, her third novel, published in 2021, won Booktopia’s Favourite Australian Book. She made her film feature debut with Run Rabbit Run. Hannah is also the co-founder of Kill Your Darlings and has written for The New York Times, The Saturday Paper, The Guardian, the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, Meanjin, Qantas
Magazine and LitHub. She lives and works in Peramangk and Kaurna country.