The stakes don’t feel high enough and even a solid performance from Carmen Ejogo can’t save Netflix’s Rattlesnake from being a waste of time in the desert.
A ticking clock is a common ploy that directors use within the thriller and horror genres. When used effectively, the clock can create an impending sense of dread, heightening every move the lead character makes. Every setback is important and doom often can feel imminent. For the ticking clock to work though, the stakes need to be sky high. As an audience, we need to feel invested in the losses our characters will endure if they don’t meet the clock’s deadline. This is the problem with Netflix’s new thriller Rattlesnake, written and directed by Zak Hilditch.
It’s a film with a simple and straightforward premise: mother Katrina Ridgeway (the wonderful Carmen Ejogo) must commit a murder in order to save her daughter (Apollonia Pratt) from a rattlesnake bite. The daughter was initially saved by some sort of unexplained dark forces, and now Katrina must perform a “soul for a soul” sacrifice by killing someone in her daughter’s place.
There’s no denying that this is a smart premise. The acting throughout the film is solid and the cinematography is largely striking. The setting, the dusty Texan plains, is a trapping of sorts, as the duo is certainly in the middle of nowhere. Rattlesnake should’ve been good, but it wasn’t.
Katrina’s daughter is bitten by the snake in the first 15 minutes of the film, which is a blistering 85 minutes. Some exposition actually would’ve worked here, as it’s difficult to feel attached to this mother and daughter, their relationship, or their subsequent precarious situations. We don’t know anything about them, nor are we given reasons to root for them, other than the fact that we want the little girl to live.
Additionally, Hilditch uses ghosts, or other murdered people, as couriers of the dark force’s messaging. After the second visitor though, this form of communication is tired. We want something new, something to pull us out of the monotony.
Ejogo commits in full force to the role and to the film, which is its own saving grace. Her worry, her concern, and her humanity are admirable and keep you just engaged enough to not flip to another streamable snack.
The film’s last 30 minutes are thrilling, though. Though we may not be completely invested in the story or in Katrina, the story jolts into a piece of film that is exciting. Once Katrina actually decides to follow through with the murder, her character morphs into one that is fascinating, battling an internal struggle that is unlikely yet quite watchable. Additionally, the film moves out of the small Texan town, within which the majority of scenes are just boring, and into the desert.
The last 10 minutes build up to another rattlesnake’s appearance, one which saves (almost) all involved in the whole ordeal. If the rest of the film had the same thrills and excitement of its final third, then we’d be having a much different conversation. Hilditch does succeed in this regard: the film ends much better than it begins.
At its peak, Rattlesnake is a gorgeous thriller grappling with the fragility of death. At its valley, it’s a film with unnecessary hospital scenes, a lack of stakes, poor development, and missing the twists that can sometimes be necessary for a thriller. Unfortunately, the movie trends more towards the latter.
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Michael is a regular critic for Ready Steady Cut and also writes for Cinema Sentries, The Film Experience and Film Inquiry.