Historically the arts have utilized the snake as a none-too-subtle Freudian phallic metaphor. In Anaconda, however, it symbolizes, well, a snake. A big snake. One equally comfortable in the river and on ground. It aspires to be Jaws (or maybe Coils: ‘This snake…swallow ya whole.’) but comes up woefully short. And why are creatures of these types always assumed to be female?
Our pal the computer-generated snake is really big, really fast, and really, really hungry. Now, herpetology was never my strong suit. I admit to knowing next to nothing about snakes, except that they’re at their most attractive and interesting when they are nowhere near me. But even the most neophyte horror film voyeur realizes that when a pre-credits statement warns that Anacondas are unique among snakes, so vindictive that they regurgitate their victims in order to swallow them again, well, it’s there for a reason. We’re in for some serpentine rumination. The scientific accuracy of the claim is apocryphal, yet parenthetical: “Hey, we’re tryin’ to sell some tickets here.”
The plot, like that of most monster flicks, is merely a device to set up some ideally novel, but ultimately way too torpid, deaths. Sure Darwinism claims some innocent victims (like the regrettably clothed Kari Wuhrer), but filmdom has taught us that avarice and other nastiness is just asking for trouble.
Enter Jon Voigt. He plays a priesthood dropout whom, naturally, has segued into the field of snake poaching. (Are you getting the Biblical implications here? Good.) Legend has it that an anaconda roughly the size of a telephone pole is lurking in the Amazon rain forest. Voigt and a couple of ill-defined coconspirators shanghai a plucky group of documentary filmmakers who want nothing more than to document an equally ill-defined lost tribe of, what else, snake worshipers. See, a snake that big is conditionally worth some serious bucks: if captured alive.
The film crew is along to accompany anthropology professor Eric Stoltz, on his (not exactly leisure) cruise. Stoltz has so little to do with this story that he disappears for most of it, surfacing as if on cue, just as you’re about to forget he’s there.
This film marks for Jon Voigt a concerted effort to unseat Christopher Walken in the competition for the Czarship of sneering, wheezing, Machiavellian, all-around weird guys. He spends much of his time standing around making a face like Beavis does when he’s really freaked out. He may have finally found his niche. That his character is poorly drawn is incidental. It’s fun to watch a nut. His performance is reminiscent of Walken’s SNL character, “The Continental” gone grievously awry. Voight’s performance brought glees of laughter from the audience as he brought the Frito Bandito to human form.
The real problem with “Anaconda” is a maddening lack of consistency. At its best, it refuses to take itself seriously and literally winks at us. But more often, it derives laughs unintentionally.
But remember that these things have a tendency to, er, spawn; never discount the possibility of a sequel.