The Justice of Bunny King

Essie Davis delivers a solid performance as a struggling mom

Bunny King (Essie Davis, “The Babadook”) just wants to throw a birthday party. She has promised her five-year-old daughter Shannon (Amelia Baines) that they would spend Shannon’s birthday together, at their home, which seems like a harmless promise, save for the precarious situation in which Bunny finds herself, as described in Gaysorn Thavat’ Judge Rabbit King. ”

A homeless rabbit is a self-described “homeless doormat.” She earns a little windshield washing in traffic with a downbeat crew and does chores at her sister’s house in exchange for crashing on their couch. Her sister Grace (Tony Potter) is a stressful nurse; Her son-in-law Bevan (Erol Shand “The Water Horse”) is a user and a loser.

Bunny heavily oversaw visits with her anxious teenage son Robin (Angus Stevens) and her loving young daughter, both of whom live with a foster family. Bunny vows to attentive social worker Ai Ling (Xana Tang, “Mulan”) that she will have housing for herself and the children in time for Shannon’s birthday. Nobody believes in Bani except Bani, who blindly believes in herself, through thick and thin.

“The Justice of Bunny King” is the first feature film by New Zealand director Thavat, who has had a long career in commercials and succeeded with her 2009 short film “Brave Donkey.” The film, written by Sophie Henderson, is a dark and bleak portrayal of a woman raging against a machine .

The rabbit is always on the move: working, cleaning, wiping the windshield, clamoring, scraping, striving and not getting a break from anyone. Davis is a hiccup in an edgy, ego-straining performance. She brings unbridled physicality to Bunny, who seeks to bring her children back through a decision-making process that is impulsive and chaotic at best, erratic and criminal at worst.

Her temper is explosive and violent, and although she is a creature of pure identity and instinct, she acts without thinking, we witness one moment of decision-making, right before the dramatic incident that propels her out of her dismal status quo. We watch her make the agonizing internal decision to attack the slutty Bevan as she approaches her niece, Tonya (Thomasin Mackenzie, “Last Night in Soho”).

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But Bunny King’s justice is fast and ruthless, and she never chooses not to fight for herself or her loved ones, and woe to anyone who stands in the rabbit’s way to protect one of her flock.

I spoke briefly to Tonya about “animal fury,” and excerpts from a conversation I overheard with a dead husband hint at her time. Wisely, however, Henderson’s script allows the characters’ actions to tell the story, not their words. The way each actor from the social services system treats Bunny, constantly putting obstacles between her and her children, speaks to the labyrinth of highly irritated bureaucracy as well as the unspoken reasons why they want to keep Bunny away from them. Her questionable mental health is not fully explained, but we see in her behavior that she is not quite well.

An encounter in Dress for Success, where Bunny receives a suit and some grace from the only person willing to offer that dignity, is a turning point. It’s as if the suit gave her the power or permission to do whatever she wanted, regardless of the consequences, and the situation quickly escalates into something serious. It remains about the birthday party, but the birthday party takes all the importance of Bunny’s identity as a mother, and her ability to deliver happiness and celebration to her child as evidence of her strong love for the mother, a love that threatens to destroy her.

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Thavat shoots the film in a natural style, using a portable camera and natural light resulting in a dark and gritty aesthetic. The somber style reflects the gloomy and gloomy attitude of the hare’s story. The restraint mirrors Henderson’s writing, which manages to feel realistic and poignant in the swirling drama.

At the heart of it all are two great actresses, New Zealander MacKenzie and Ossie Davis, who are just one of the forces of nature on screen. Never been in question, Davis’ talent has built a long résumé of solid performances, but her bunny is Davis at her most brutal, animalistic and instinctive, stemming from an emotional wellspring of motherly love, grief, and perseverance.

Thavat’s horrific, animated movie doesn’t necessarily do justice to Bunny, but instead looks at the little bits of justice that Bunny, though misleading, does for herself and her loved ones within a system trying to keep her frustrated. “That’s not how you see your kids, Bunny,” says another social worker, Trish (Tanya Heck, “Eagle Against Shark”). “I’ve tried all the other methods,” the fire builder replies. In the end, “The Justice of Bunny King” offers its heroine a little attention and validation, without judgment, which eludes her with her life.

“The Justice of Bunny King” opens in US theaters September 23 via FilmRise and will be available on request on September 30.

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