Thrillers thrive on tension, the will-they-won’t-they knife-edge of survival. Much like the villains that inhabit these films lust after blood and death, they crave twists, turns, and jumps that make you, safe in the comfort of the real world, question if you’ll make it out of the film alive.
To make a thriller without any of that integral DNA is to immediately set yourself up for failure. That’s precisely what director Zak Hilditch has done with the new Netflix movie Rattlesnake, a movie with so little bite that even its relatively short 85-minute runtime feels flabby and indulgent.
The story begins with Katrina (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter Clara (Apollonia Pratt) driving from Phoenix to Oklahoma in search of a new start. As her daughter sleeps in the back, Katrina tries to focus on driving while listening to a self-help podcast about getting through tough times, unaware that difficulty is looming on the horizon, not behind her.
Drifting through the middle of nowhere, a tyre bursts and Clara wonders off onto the plain to play with rocks while it’s fixed. There, she’s bitten by a rattlesnake and left fighting for her life. The only sign of civilisation around is a weathered, shed-like house in the distance, occupied by a creepy old woman who miraculously heals the child of her wound. But there’s a catch – Katrina must find a soul to sacrifice before sunset or Clara will take a turn for the worse and die.
What follows could be a deep and thought-provoking rumination on morality when caught in a desperate situation and there are glimmers of that debate in places. But Rattlesnake refuses to delve fully into the murky corners of such ideas, offering up a more predictable path instead. As time ticks closer to the end of the day, Katrina doesn’t devolve into a frantic, irrational mess as you might expect and her lack of urgency fails to give the viewer any reason to be invested in her or her daughter’s fate.
It’s astonishing that Hilditch could turn in such a slack-jawed and dull film given his last work was a 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s 1922 – a movie that put your attention in a vice-like grip and refused to let go. His cast, particularly Ejogo, do their best with the material they’ve been given, but it would take actors of superhuman talent to make Rattlesnake feel like anything more than a dreary and unconvincing flop.
- Director: Zak Hilditch
- Starring: Carmen Ejogo, Theo Rossi, Emma Greenwell
- Release date: 25 October 2019