Why, of course, life bites — and the mark can be distressing! Just ask Katrina Ridgeway (Carmen Ejogo), the subject of interest in this year’s final “Netflix and Chills” entry, a cross-country Arizonian trying to save her daughter Clara (Apollonia Pratt) from a rattlesnake’s venom. It isn’t a spoiler to say that the latter is saved, but it is upon revealing whom Katrina will kill to pay for the treatment.
The involvement of Zak Hilditch in Rattlesnake is a hand-meets-glove situation. Having shepherded the direction and writing of the under-seen — and also for Netflix — 1922, Hilditch knows the means to amplify the sense of entrapment. There are plenty of shots of time-tellers reminding Katrina — as she is reminded by an intimidating suit (Bruce Davis), a bullet-riddled trucker (Rio Alexander), then a head-banger of a child (Spencer Mabrey), then a reportedly missing Australian hiker (Alexandra Nell) — that she only has 7 hours left, or when the sun sets, to do the deadly deed. Receiving even more screen time is the environs’ ability to oppress, most times to the point where it’s reasonable to say that it’s the climate (read: heat) and not the looming evil that drives folks wild. Suspense is crucial for a tale like this, and it is apparent here — more than 1922 thanks to the employment of a slightly speedier progression — even if the level can be considered tame/muted by today’s standards. But if the vibe Hilditch wants Rattlesnake to go for is in the vicinity of short tales for long drives, he has accomplished his mission.
The leading (and co-producing) Ejogo, seen here adding another horror entry to her résumé after Alien: Covenant and It Comes At Night, also weaves sufficiency into her performance. As Katrina goes around town — Tulia of Texas — looking for someone to kill, the actress suitably gives her character’s awareness of the “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” scenario, along with the increasing weight of the countdown, ample presence. You do buy into the exhaustion, or non-supernatural, angle through her expressions. One does wish that Ejogo could have leaned more into Katrina’s loss of direction, literally (she is in a strange state — sorry, Texas, but you can be sometimes) and mentally (mystical vs. factual), to make the tension more ebb and flow, but this might have been the result of Hildritch’s script’s falling short of giving this element enough emphasis.
While that last point will challenge how much mileage you can get out of Rattlesnake post-bite, there’s no denying that this is the most wholesome product from Netflix’s scary factory this year. Unlike In The Tall Grass or Eli, the film doesn’t shed into another form it has a wonky grasp of and shatter the goodwill built. Well, there is a church in Rattlesnake, though thankfully it’s not the centerpiece. And comparing to Fractured, Hildritch’s film doesn’t cheapen itself, staying true to its initial bearing instead. The steadiness means the film doesn’t exactly have a replay value of the mid-to-high range, even when there’s only 88 minutes (with credits), though at least the possibility that the first watch isn’t a self-immolation affair also exists.
Rattlesnake is now streaming on Netflix.