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With 2017’s 1922, the writer-director Zak Hilditch announced himself as a skilled conjurer of mood, a patient horror film-maker who prioritised slow-burn atmosphere over cheap jump scares. The bleak Stephen King adaptation was one of Netflix’s better original genre offerings and now, as his follow-up, he has handed the platform one of its worst with Rattlesnake, a quick, useless scrap of content with no discernible purpose other than to fill digital space.
In what often feels like a low-rent King knockoff, Carmen Ejogo plays Katrina, a mother driving her young daughter cross-country for a new start. While listening to an embarrassingly on-the-nose Tony Robbins podcast about what to do under difficult circumstances, she gets a flat in the middle of nowhere. As she replaces the tire, her daughter is bitten by a rattlesnake. Panicked, she races toward a nearby trailer where a mysterious woman offers help but it comes with a deadly price: a soul for a soul.
There are shades of King’s 1991 novel Needful Things, which led to a fun and nasty 1993 adaptation, as well as Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, Richard Kelly’s The Box and many other, more impactful examples, but Rattlesnake can’t distinguish itself from the pack, fading into the background instead, trundling along at a snail’s pace. Given the brisk 85-minute running time and the film’s ticking clock device, it’s quite remarkable that it does move so slowly. While this pacing worked well for 1922, it’s discordant here. It’s clear that Hilditch wants this to be a pulse-racer as Katrina is given until sundown to find someone to kill, but he struggles to stuff his film with any of the clammy tension it so desperately needs or even enough actual plot after Katrina finds out what she needs to do. Instead, there’s a string of increasingly feeble visions that plague her as she tries to complete her mission, each one even less effective than the last.
The dilemma at the film’s centre is a juicy one but Hilditch makes the cowardly choice of handing Katrina an easy target, stripping the film of any knotty exploration of her amorality and what sorts of horrible things one might do to protect someone they love. Ejogo is an undeniably talented actor who has delivered strong turns in genre fare before, but she’s adrift here, stuck with a character devoid of specificity and personality. Hilditch’s direction is similarly bland, his decision to set the film entirely in daylight not proving to be a smart one and, unlike in Ari Aster’s similarly bright Midsommar, he never finds a way of subverting the superficial safety of the sun.
Rattlesnake is a strangely boring and regressive step after the stifling oppression of 1922, a film with flaws but one that showcased a director with something to show off. Here he’s hiding, seemingly as bored and uninvested as anyone unlucky enough to be watching.
Source: The Guardian
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