A romantic escape into nature turns into the ultimate moment of reckoning when a husband and wife are trapped in a tent with a deadly snake. Unable to escape and with certain death looming, the tent becomes a heated confessional to a cataclysmic truth. Betrayed, the couple finds themselves spiraling into a dark and dangerous space of which only one can survive.
Amanda Evans new horror thriller Serpent, premiered at the LA Film Festival to an eager audience and high praise after the lights rose. Set in South Africa, the film is a tells the story of two very different people at a crossroads in their marriage who are thrust into a life or death situation with one of the world’s most venomous and aggressive snakes, the Black Mamba.
“…a slow-cooked meditation on a relationship and the death dealing poison of deceit.”
The story opens on tightly wound business woman, Gwynneth (Sarah Dumont) attempting to hide an affair from Adam (Tom Ainsley), her husband, as she rolls in from work. Adam has just received a grant to travel to the remote and very dangerous Suicide Gorge in hopes of discovering a new species of beetle. While supportive, Gwynneth has other things on her mind, like ignoring her lover’s incessant texts and trying to hide her hyperactive phone. Adam and Gwynneth love each other but there are some major issues slithering under the surface in their relationship.
Impetuously, Gwynneth asks to join her husband on his expedition and the two set off into the South African wilderness outside of Cape Town. We get more hints at problems bubbling to the surface as the two make their way out of town, traveling to the remote location. A two hour hike to the no man’s land only creates more drama between the two overheated explorers, but they arrive at their site, set up camp, and things calm down… momentarily. In the dead of night, in a darkened tent, Adam slowly wakes up to hear the hissing breath and muscular slither of a Black Mamba inside the tent. Paralyzed by necessity the two must find a way to escape the confines of the tent as the death-dealing snake slithers in and around their bodies.
There are literally only three people that appear on screen for the duration of the 85 minute film, shouldering Dumont and Ainsley with the responsibility of populating the human cast. Co-staring with an actual Black Mamba whose mouth was carefully secured shut, the two actors valiantly emote and work through the turmoil of a marriage on the rocks as a venomous snake writhes and coils on their bare skin.
Writer, director Evans accomplishes a remarkable feat. Trapping two characters in a tiny tent with a snake seems like an idea that would be used up in roughly 5 minutes. Not so here. Using a remarkable variety of camera angles that make everything seem like uncharted territory, along with a subtext that feeds into the imagery, we are subjected to horrors both internal and external. Before getting trapped in the tent we are given a chance to learn about the two characters. We get who they are and the painful situation they are in. The film sets up the grueling centerpiece with care so that when things get claustrophobic, we have enough subtext to occupy us when visuals strain to remain fresh.
Serpent isn’t an action horror film, but a slow-cooked meditation on a relationship and the death dealing poison of deceit. There are certainly moments that had this reviewer coiled up into a ball lest any snakes were loose in the movie theatre, but this film is far more than a snake movie. Serpent is a well-crafted, intimate thriller that will coil around you and never let you loose until the final, death-dealing bite.
Serpent is worth Matinee (***).
* Norm’s Rating System: Full Price (****), Matinee (***), VOD (**), Don’t Bother (*)