Fear of Rain review – lurid horror film takes aim at mental illness stereotypes

Here’s a horror flick that wants to have its cake and eat it: combining a well-intentioned drama about teenage mental illness with a lurid potboiler. Director Castille Landon seems to be wagging her finger at films containing damaging stereotypes of mental health, while telling her own sensational and lurid story. In Florida, a high-schooler with schizophrenia becomes convinced that the woman next door is keeping a little girl locked up in her attic. Is she hallucinating, or is her neighbour a kidnapper?

It opens with a nastily effective slasher movie scene: a hooded man stalks a blond teenager through a cemetery, then buries her alive in a shallow grave. The girl wakes up thrashing in a hospital bed. This is Rain (Madison Iseman), who’s had a terrifying psychotic episode after stopping her meds. Her concerned parents are played by Katherine Heigl and Harry Connick Jr; they seem to have walked in from a syrupy Nicholas Sparks adaptation, bemused and blank-faced. Back in her bedroom, Rain picks a piece of her own fingernail out of the wall, in case anyone is in any doubt how serious her illness is.

At school she is a pariah. “Careful or she’ll go all Carrie on you,” jokes her ex-best friend. But gorgeous new kid Caleb (Israel Broussard) seems to dig Rain’s gorgeous-but-vulnerable vibe. “I love your brain,” he tells her. He is also willing to go along with her highly dubious theory that their single-lady English teacher, Dani (Eugenie Bondurant) – who happens to be Rain’s neighbour – has taken a child prisoner. Bondurant’s creepy performance is the highlight of the film. Landon films the angles of her androgynous face to perfection: in a certain kind of light she looks frail and caring; from another angle she’s menacing as hell.

Fear of Rain won’t be winning any awards for mental health awareness with its silly hash of psychology, packaging up illness to fit the schlock’n’shock of the story. But there are a couple of ludicrous twists at the end that make it very watchable.

• Fear of Rain is released on 26 April on digital platforms.