With Halloween less than a week away, Netflix has released its latest original horror-thriller, Rattlesnake. Arguably, Netflix and Chills has underwhelmed this year. In place of The Haunting of Hill House, Netflix has treated horror fans to middling thrillers, Eli and In The Tall Grass, and the ‘candy corn’ of horror series, Haunted. Two years ago, writer and director Zak Hilditch helmed the effectively creepy Stephen King adaptation, 1922. Can Hilditch follow up on his previous success with another quietly unsettling effort? Or is Rattlesnake just a toothless thriller?
Single-mom Katrina’s road trip with young daughter, Clara, is abruptly disrupted when her car blows a tire. As she struggles to replace it, a rattlesnake bites Clara, leaving her gravely ill with no help in sight. But when Katrina finds a dilapidated trailer, a strange woman offers to help for a price. When Katrina gets her daughter to a hospital, Clara has amazingly healed. Now Katrina discovers the price for her daughter’s miraculously recovery – a life for a life. Haunting figures throughout the small town warn Katrina that she has until sunset to replace her daughter’s soul with another human life.
Rattlesnake Can’t Build From Its Stephen King Vibes
On paper, Rattlesnake has a winning premise. A ‘deal with the devil’, an isolated small town, and ominous warnings from the dead – it all could have been ripped from the pages of a Stephen King novel. When Zak Hilditch adapted King’s 1922, he showed a methodical, patient approach to horror. Similar to his previous Netflix offering, Hilditch again illustrates a good grasp of genre atmosphere. Rattlesnake makes the most of its sun-soaked environment, soaking itself in a quietly dreadful atmosphere. Here and there, Hilditch manages to put some strikingly creepy images up on the screen. And there’s the problem with the movie. Though it has atmosphere to spare and manages to be occasionally creepy, it’s not a scary movie.
As the movie hits its final act, most of the atmosphere and suspense has evaporated.
No jumps or jolts and just a little bit of blood, Rattlesnake is a fairly tame affair. Yes, there are a couple of genuinely suspenseful moments. Rattlesnake’s best moment emerges when Karolina lurks in an abusive boyfriend’s hallway, waiting for him to come around the corner. It’s this kind of ‘will she or won’t she’ scene where Rattlesnake excels. Sadly, there’s just not enough of these scenes. As the movie hits its final act, most of the atmosphere and suspense has evaporated. That is, Hilditch’s climax is rather anti-climatic – a surprisingly uneventful capper to the whole movie.
A Premise Barely Scratched
In spite of the interesting moral dilemma at the heart of its story, Rattlesnake never really emotionally engages. Part of this can be attributed to a screenplay that doesn’t full flesh out its main character. We never really learn much about Karolina and, as a result, it’s difficult to invest in her plight. Another problem is the movie’s pacing. At times, Rattlesnake feels like its just moving from creepy scene to creepy scene. Even with her daughter’s life on the line, Rattlesnake has a hard time creating the feeling that there are stakes. And a premise that should provoke discomfort and tension never rises above an average Twilight Zone episode.
…a premise that should provoke discomfort and tension never rises above an average Twilight Zone episode.
As for the performances, Carmen Ejogo, who plays Karolina, is perfectly fine. Based on previous roles, however, Ejogo is capable of much more. It’s a somewhat flat performance that never fully convinces that she’s a mother fighting for her daughter’s life. Sons of Anarchy alum Theo Rossi also turns up in a small role. Fans of the FX outlaw biker series know what Rossi is capable of when given a meaty role. In Rattlesnake, Rossi doesn’t get the screen time to make much of an impression. He’s more or less in the movie to satisfy a plot point.
Rattlesnake Another Mediocre Netflix Thriller
Neither offensively bad nor captivatingly chilling, Rattlesnake straddles the fence of mediocrity. To his credit, Hilditch maintains a foreboding atmosphere from start to finish. Rattlesnake has some ‘Stephen King DNA’ in it. Nevertheless, Hilditch’s movie is never really scary in spite of a few brief moments of suspense. Nothing in the movie cashes in on the potential that feels like it’s always just under the surface. What’s left is a movie that doesn’t feel all that different from an 80’s or 90’s ‘made-for-television’ thriller.