Netflix’s new semi-horror film Rattlesnake is a thought experiment. It asks the question “what would you do if some sort of desert witch saves your daughter’s life and then asks you to take someone else’s life in her stead?” An interesting question to be sure and one that likely cameos in many a bar argument on weekends or deep within one of the weirder Chuck Klosterman books.
In exploring (sort of) the answer to that hypothetical, however, Rattlesnake fails one of the fundamental tasks of cinema. That task is answering the question “So like….why?” That question exists across the movie sphere and really every other sphere of art as well. Every new venture, particularly ventures that cost quite a bit of money and utilize the expertise and time of dozens or even hundreds of actors, writers, producers, and other specialists, must step up and declare why it exists.
Fair or not, Rattlesnake has some other questions to answer as a streaming Netflix property. Since the movie shares its server space with a massive, diverse array of content, the burden of proof falls on it to display that it’s even a movie worthy of its 80 minutes. Prove to us that you’re a movie, not a thought experiment. Prove that you deserve your own Netflix entry, and not only as a part of a Black Mirror season. Prove that shooting in widescreen was worth it, since you’re this big, fancy “movie” after all.
Rattlesnake proves none of these things. Its reason for existence seems to be that Netflix wanted to pad out its list of original October horror offerings with absolutely anything. Above all else, it is flagrantly, disgustingly boring.
Rattlesnake stars Carmen Ejogo (recently seen on True Detective season 3) as Katrina Ridgeway, a mother driving across Texas towards an unknown engagement in Oklahoma with her adorable daughter Clara. When Katrina’s phone notes some traffic up ahead*, she takes an exit offramp in a suburban area and somehow immediately ends up in a desolate expanse of sand.
*For all of Rattlesnake’s faults, one thing I do appreciate it is it getting Katrina’s phone display mostly right. Movies a lot more expensive (and flat out better) have gotten lazy with recreating the right software display on iPhones or Android devices onscreen. So…uh, kudos.
When Katrina and Clara step out to fix a flat tire, Clara is bitten by a rattlesnake in the bush and begins to die. Katrina is able to rush Clara to a strange trailer where an equally strange woman saves Clara’s life. Soon, however, Katrina finds that that service comes with a cost. Katrina must take another person’s life before sundown or Clara’s life will be….unsaved.
Again: interesting enough thought experiment, right? But the answer that most of us would probably come to (and pretty quickly) is “Yeah sure, I’ll smoke a fool for this witch.” That’s the conclusion that Rattlesnake and Katrina immediately come to as well, robbing the proceedings of any moral ambiguity or really just anything interesting at all. Sure, Katrina isn’t excited about having to do this, but the movie has to throw her into it all the same.
Rattlesnake also almost immediately runs into issues with its runtime. 80 minutes is about as short as any feature length could get, but the lengths to which the film goes to pad it out is just excruciating. Katrina deals with a false start of sorts first and then when she finds her actual preferred target, can’t help but putz around for no reason. It was cute when Hamlet was wracked with indecision, but it’s decidedly less so when Katrina does it, particularly with the stakes at hand significantly raised.
Not only that, but Rattlesnake seems to have designed itself to be as boring as humanly possible. Anytime there is any kind of narrative decision to be made, you can be damn sure that Rattlesnake is going to choose the most boring option. Hell yeah! Netflix horror mov…and we’re in a hospital with an old man for a half hour.
Above all else though, Rattlesnake can never overcome its original sin of not being able to argue for its own existence. Sure, the question at play here might be interesting enough, but that’s all it is: a question. Sometimes hypotheticals work best as merely hypotheticals.
All in all, Rattlesnake is the cinematic equivalent of a phone call when a text would have sufficed.
Rattlesnake is available to stream on Netflix now.