Austin Film Festival 2019: ‘Rattlesnake’ Bites Hard

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Rattlesnake

What would you pay to save the person you love most in the world? In Netflix Original Rattlesnake, a pulse-pounding, psychological horror film directed by Zak Hilditch, single-mother Katrina (Carmen Ejogo)  must make the ultimate choice of morality versus motherly love.

Katrina is driving cross country to start a new life with her young daughter Clara (Apollonia Pratt) when their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. As Katrina changes the tire, her daughter wanders off and is bitten by a rattlesnake. As she rushes for help, Katrina stumbles upon a house. Desperate to save her daughter’s life, Katrina accepts the help of a mysterious woman who miraculously heals Clara.

But it isn’t just a simple favor, instead, Katrina is asked to repay the good deed by killing a stranger in exchange for the life saved. Given 24-hours and the guidelines that the soul must be human but can be anyone of her choosing, Katrina wrestles with the morality of who deserves to live and who should die, before her daughter’s life is once again in jeopardy as soon as the sun goes down.

Rattlesnake is terrifying in the same way that The Box was. Would you sacrifice another for your own gain? This is accentuated as Katrina begins having visions, taunting her to make the choice, pushing her to break. It’s these hallucinations that push the film and makes it unsettling while the world begins to blend between the living and the dead, tearing Katrina apart mentally.

Rattlesnake

As Katrina, Ejogo is wonderful and emotive. Her struggle is worn on her face and not just in her actions. As the focus of the film, she carries it. Throughout the entire film, Ejogo plays a woman on the brink, pushed by the love for her daughter, the fear of killing while also trying to find a glimpse of morality behind choosing her daughter and sacrificing another.

What makes Katrina compelling is both the victim she chooses and her struggle to choose. As a viewer, you root for her, not just because she’s a mom but because Ejogo’s performance builds a bridge of empathy and asks you to decide who you would choose to kill in this situation – or if you wouldn’t. The small cast further pushes Ejogo’s performance to the forefront of the film’s success.

While the choice to have Katrina seek out a bad man to kill may seem safe, it’s a good one that fits in line with Katrina. She isn’t a killer. She’s a mother who has asked to kill in order to save her daughter but nowhere in Rattlesnake does Katrina want to kill, even when she finds her abusive target. Instead, she has to work up to it, she has to push herself to do it, and it’s with this build-up that makes us care for her. You can’t root for evil, but you can root for a woman who is trying to do the best with the lot given her.

Rattlesnake

The only critique to be made for the film is that we’re asked to jump right in. And throughout the film we aren’t given too much exposition explaining the forces behind Clara’s miraculous healing. As Katrina searches for answers, she finds other murders that look to be prompted by the same task given to her. While this establishes a pattern happening in the small Texas town, it does leave a glaring question as to what exactly is the force behind the whole plot. Is the force friendly to her? Is it malevolent? Rattlesnake doesn’t offer that answer, instead, allowing the person who makes the choice to decide.

Overall, there isn’t much more I can say about this psychological horror without giving away the plot and like the other titles in the Netflix and Chills line up it’s better seen than spoiled. It’s also my favorite of the Netflix originals released this spooky season. Rattlesnake holds its merit as a horror film and Ejogo’s performance bites hard.

Rattlesnake is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.

Rattlesnake
8/10

TL;DR

Overall, there isn’t much more I can say about this psychological horror without giving away the plot and like the other titles in the Netflix and Chills line up it’s better seen than spoiled. It’s also my favorite of the Netflix originals released this spooky season. Rattlesnake holds its merit as a horror film and Ejogo’s performance bites hard.