Leanne Johnson, Drew Russell, Holly Anspaugh, Jorge Juarez, Lauren McDaniel, James Tackett, W. Michael Davidson, Steve Bernstein
Eric Pascarelli, Jeff Pollard
Prime Video, Hoosier Films
Now in her 30's, Penny (Leanne Johnson) was only a child when her mother abandoned her to join a cult. With her father now having gone missing, Penny fears that he may have been kidnapped by the cult that continues to have a powerful impact on Penny's life. Determined to discover the truth, Penny decides to infiltrate the cult by posing as a new member hoping that she can save her father before it's too late.
The Indiana made Chasing Rabbits is a compelling low-budget indie starring an almost entirely hoosier ensemble cast telling a vital, important story with both personal and universal significance. The film benefits greatly from Leanne Johnson's emotionally honest turn as Penny, a woman who has both moved beyond her past yet is still greatly impacted by it. Johnson, who picked up the best actor prize at the Hoosier Films Festival, nicely weaves together both vulnerability as confidence and has a convincing chemistry with Drew Russell as Zebulon, the son of the cult's founder and an up-and-coming strong voice amidst growing changes within the group.
As Zebulon, Russell possesses a quiet charisma that projects both normalcy and relatability. Avoiding the usual caricatures that we expect from cinematic cult leaders, Russell presents Zebulon as a relatively ordinary joe with a hint of an edge always bubbling underneath the surface. It wasn't the performance I necessarily expected, though it was tremendously effective.
The other secret weapon in Chasing Rabbits is Holly Anspaugh as Penny's BFF Jane, who grows increasingly concerned about Penny and whose presence in the latter half of the film is essential and adds another layer of emotional resonance for the film.
Available to digitally purchase on Amazon Prime Video and the Hoosier Films Platform, Chasing Rabbits is ultimately a hopeful film and a terrific sign of the ever-growing hoosier film scene. While the film is occasionally hindered by the challenges faced by every low-budget indie, Chasing Rabbits accomplishes quite a bit on very little and tells an intelligent, meaningful story along the way. While some of the relatively minor roles are a bit hit-and-miss, Chasing Rabbits for the most part has a strong ensemble cast clearly in touch with director/co-writer Eric Pascarelli's vision for the film and the script by Pascarelli with Jeff Pollard.
As someone who grew up in what many would describe as a cult, I'm always captivated by contemporary cinematic efforts to portray the realities of living within such a an environment. What I most appreciated about Chasing Rabbits was the relatively low-key portrayal of both the seductive powers of the cult and the underlying presence of menace and control that can be so ambiguous that it's difficult to describe and can often feel like a mindgame. Most filmmakers choose to heighten the drama, while Pascarelli opts for a more honest, realistic portrayal.
Both engaging and thought-provoking, Chasing Rabbits is ultimately a hopeful film that manages to build that hope in a way that manifests naturally and remains consistent with everything that unfolds.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic