- Mitch Blatt
Fear of Rain, Fear of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia seems like a ripe plot device for horror or thriller movies, since the protagonist can see or hear things other characters don’t. Either that, or a villain or side character can. There are a lot of movies that get it wrong, using it just as a sensational plot device, but Fear of Rain is one that gets it right, particularly in its depiction of societal reactions to people with schizophrenia. Rain Burroughs (Madison Iseman) isn’t just afraid, she’s the one others are afraid of and for.
Rain, a high school student with schizophrenia, has a horror movie-like hallucination while in a hospital. When orderlies restrain and sedate her after she panics, her mom Michelle (Katherine Heigl) says “stop, you’re making it worse. Don’t tie her down!” After waking from sedation (and whenever she encounters something that could be a hallucination), Rain runs through a mental checklist—“Is this possible? Could it exist here? Is anyone else reacting?” This fully works (all questions have a definite yes/no answer) for
“I’m waking up in hospital restraints,” stops at step 2 for “A cute boy is taking an interest in me,” and breaks in the middle of step 1 when the boy’s life is in danger (and Rain is too stressed to go through the checklist).
Rain’s the subject of gossip at school and tells her mom she feels like “a social currency,” but she meets aforementioned cute boy (Caleb, played by Israel Broussard) in her English class. On the way home from school, she sees someone kidnap a little girl wearing red, later seeing the girl in the attic window of her teacher Dani McConnell’s (Eugenie Bondurant) house across the street. Her dad John (Harry Connick, Jr.) doesn’t believe that “there’s a little girl in my teacher’s attic” is possible, because the teacher doesn’t have kids (shooting it down
at step 1), but humors her and goes to the house with her. All they find in the attic is circumstantial evidence Dani’s been in the attic more recently than she says, so Rain teams up with Caleb to investigate, saying she’s right, she just needs proof. They find out that the kidnapped girl’s name is Malia (Hudson Rodgers). In addition to investigating, they go on several dates together. Rain doesn’t tell him about her schizophrenia. He finds out about it when she tries to help her former friend Alexa (Julia Vasi) down from a panic attack, only for Alexa to push her away and shout that “just because you’re schizophrenic doesn’t mean the rest of us are messed up too!”
Caleb says he isn’t bothered by Rain’s schizophrenia, but he wishes she would’ve told him about it. He asks what it’s like. “Number one,” she says, “I don’t have multiple personalities. A lot of people assume that, but it’s completely different. There’s a lot of voices that say the worst things that you could possibly imagine, or that I could. To be honest, it’s kind of scary not really knowing if I can trust what I see or hear. A lot of people don’t have visual hallucinations, just auditory ones, but I have both.” She apologizes for being “weird,” but Caleb says “it’s what makes you you. I’m different, you’re different, why should we have to apologize for that?” and that it’s okay if Malia isn’t real.
Institutionalization comes up several times in the movie. Rain’s therapist Dr. Pangloss (Enuka Okuma) says that if Rain doesn’t take her medication voluntarily, she’ll be institutionalized and forced to, and wonders if the girl in the attic is an externalization of
Rain’s own feelings of being confined and trapped. Rain says that’s a possibility. After Rain and Caleb break into the teacher’s house, Dani threatens to file charges unless John institutionalizes his daughter. When Rain thinks she hears Malia screaming, with Caleb saying it could just be a cat, Rain says if she calls the police but it turns out it is a cat, she’ll be institutionalized. Late in the film, Rain tells her mom that she knows, but doesn’t care, that she’ll get institutionalized if she breaks into her teacher’s house again.
Finding that Caleb is too perfect a match for her (being a friend, not caring about her schizophrenia), Rain wonders if he’s real. Her mom can see him. But John says that Michelle died three years ago; he pretended she was still alive because he was terrified Rain would “want to go to be with her.” Michelle could see Caleb, but she wasn’t real. In the teacher’s attic, Rain talks to a hallucination of her dying mother, saying that she isn’t real, but that Malia is. The teacher tries to gaslight Rain into believing that Malia and Caleb aren’t real, but they are. Some time after the rescue, Rain says to her dad that she can tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not for the first time, but still hears voices. She misses her mom, but lies that she doesn’t see her. She lies down in bed and sees her mom there with her. They say they love each other, and Rain goes to sleep.
JOHN BURROUGHS: John seems tense for most of the film, like his nerves are fraying after who-knows-how-long of dealing with his daughter’s condition. Late in the film, Rain gets into an argument with him about whether Caleb’s real, then says “I’m not my sickness!” Her dad says she is, they all are. He asks if she’s been taking her meds, but Rain says it doesn’t matter what she says, he won’t believe her. He tries to force a pill down her throat, she tries to take multiple (asking if he wants her to “get out of his hair”), and he slaps her. He apologizes and tells her not to say that again; he doesn’t know what else he’s supposed to do. Rain says, “Sorry doesn’t make it okay,” but this event isn’t brought up again later.
MICHELLE BURROUGHS: Michelle seems to blame herself for Rain’s condition, such as telling her husband that “this is my fault” one night. Her marriage is strained; on the drive home from the hospital, John says everything’s fine, but Michelle says it’s been a rough day (for which Rain apologizes). Although Rain and Michelle share friendly banter during the first act, Rain finds her crying while looking through happy photos of Rain’s pre-schizophrenia childhood, and Michelle worries that Caleb could trigger a psychotic episode.
DR. PANGLOSS: In her first onscreen therapy session, Pangloss asks if Rain’s been taking her medication. Rain understands that her meds make her more stable, but they make her feel “like a zombie,” which means she can’t paint. The therapist starts to suggest experimenting, but Rain interrupts with, “Experimenting? I’m not a lab rat.” The therapist says Rain’s one more “misstep” away from being institutionalized. Rain says it’s not fair; “People see and hear God, no one thinks they’re nuts.” she says, but the therapist says that’s not the same thing. Rain asks why not, but the scene cuts away before we get an answer.
CALEB: Rain sees Caleb sitting alone in her English class, then he sits with her during lunch, showing off a magic card trick. Her checklist stops at step 3 since no other students are reacting to this, so she’s not sure if he’s real for most of the movie. But he’s a perfect match for her; when talking about him with her mom, Rain says that she doesn’t care if he’s real or not, because she likes spending time with him; “I finally have someone to keep me company, and he’s not hurting me or anyone else, so I don’t understand what the problem is.”
The movie realistically portrays the stigma people with schizophrenia face. Rain’s English teacher quotes another student’s essay, in which a fictional character is described as “psycho,” but the teacher then repeats the quote with more-PC phrasing. During lunch, Rain finds her former friend Alexa sitting with a group of students who make fun of Rain. A girl with braids says their table doesn’t have room for “all those personalities,” and Alexa says “careful, she might go all Carrie on us.” Rain leaves to eat outside, alone, and the girls gossip about Rain’s offscreen suicide attempt, the girl with braids saying Rain “just does it for attention”. Students stare when Rain spills her medication and picks it up, or act like her mental condition is contagious. Most of Rain’s depicted hallucinations
are negative or distressing, but not all.
In terms of writing, the movie is somewhat predictable. There’s a scene in the third act where a random card is chosen from a Tarot deck, and it’s the cliche Death card. For all that institutionalization is brought up, the movie doesn’t really show anything to justify this as a credible threat; due to this lack of credibility, I’m not sure if this aspect of the film is realistic. However, this could negatively influence the public’s perception of schizophrenia if viewers assume that everyone with schizophrenia has intense, dramatic episodes like Rain does. The scene where John tries to force Rain to take her medication should logically have some sort of fallout, but it doesn’t seem to. Rain’s various hallucinations (being chased by a shadowy figure through a dark forest, blood in the shower, etc.) seem like horror movie cliches; I don’t know what psychotic episodes are like, but I doubt they’re like that. In my opinion, the film’s use of “Rain’s love interest/co-investigator is ambiguously real” isn’t an accurate reflection of
the reality of schizophrenia. As Rain says, it’s not common to have both visual and auditory hallucinations, so this plot element, while improving the story, doesn’t seem true-to-life.
I would give Fear of Rain a 4/5 for the somewhat-predictable story, 5/5 for the cinematography, and 4/5 for the depiction of schizophrenia, with a bonus point for Rain’s quote to Caleb about what it’s like for her to have schizophrenia (cutting to the heart of this stigmatized condition) and the inclusion of a benign hallucination.