Driving from Arizona to Oklahoma in search of a fresh start, Katrina (Carmen Ejogo) gets a flat tire which causes her to stop in the middle of the desert. While changing the tire, her daughter Clara (Apollonia Pratt) gets bitten by a venomous rattlesnake. With no phone signal and the car still not going anywhere, Katrina turns to the nearby trailer where a mysterious woman says she’ll help. “We’ll talk about payment later,” she warns, as Katrina returns to get her car back on the road.
At the hospital, there are no signs of a snake bite and the doctor questions Katrina’s sanity. However, he keeps Clara in for observation. While there, a mysterious man appears to talk about Katrina’s debt – and he doesn’t mean hospital bills. Saving her daughter’s life comes with a different kind of hefty price tag – a soul for a soul; a debt that must be paid in full by sunset, which is only seven hours away. Clara’s condition will worsen and she will die if Katrina doesn’t follow through.
Directed by Zak Hilditch (Stephen King’s 1922), Rattlesnake belongs to Netflix’s latest block of original horror films — which includes the likes of Into the Tall Grass, Eli and Wounds. The premise of Rattlesnake is simple yet captivating, but what follows the intriguing opening fails to hold up. Katrina is plagued by macabre visions which remind her that the clock is ticking — but she doesn’t really do much else. The film is incredibly slow and devoid of tension considering the pressing matter at hand and its short 85-minute runtime.
Despite its flaws, Ejogo is a fantastic choice for the film’s lead, but her character lacks personality. She’s a kind person struggling with a heavy dilemma, but nothing else about her stands out. Rattlesnake doesn’t go down the path of a struggling single mother going crazy (thankfully), but it doesn’t properly explore its concept of morality either, which would’ve made it much more interesting. Instead, Katrina’s desperation is pretty muted and her lack of urgency fails to keep us invested in her daughter’s fate. Everyone handles stress and trauma differently, but this choice didn’t help with the film’s plot, pace or characterization.
There are still some great moments here and there, with a few spatters of pleasing gore, but for a horror film set in the blazing Texas sun, its shots and cinematography are rather unremarkable. Rattlesnake has a strong premise, but it lacks the tension and personality it needs to be fully engrossing. The film is fine overall, but it feels like a dish without seasoning. The first and last fifteen minutes work the best, but also remind us of the untapped potential of Rattlesnake.