"None of this makes sense."
Boasting a small, intimate cast and a straightforward story, writer/director Zak Hilditch successfully navigates the open terrain of small-town Texas to pack an emotional punch in the unexpectedly moving family thriller Rattlesnake.
Centered on a mother and her young daughter, Rattlesnake effortlessly sets up its plot early. Our protagonist, desperately running from something, or someone, suffers a flat tire after ditching the main roads for a shortcut across the Lone Star State. Katrina (played by Carmen Ejogo) begins to tackle the tire change without service or aid of any kind, while her daughter aimlessly walks amongst the dirt and dead shrubs nearby.
It is these moments, isolated from any sign of civilization, where Rattlesnake excels. Clever use of music, mixed with a strong understanding of timing and pace, allows the tense moments to build. Hilditch is never over-eager to get to the big reveal, allowing the development to balloon as audience members cringe with the mindless possibilities.
When a rattlesnake suddenly bites Katrina's daughter, a sense of panic heightens the already tense exchange. But that feeling transitions to curiosity when a double-wide suddenly appears in the once empty field.
It is here that a miracle happens as the snake bite, once consuming the leg and forcing its victim to the brink of death, is gone. The leg, clear of any scar, is back to normal. But these miracles don't happen without a price, and Katrina is both confused and horrified when she learns that the only way to secure her daughter's health is to take another soul before sundown.
From that point, Katrina is in a race against the clock - or sun. Searching aimlessly for a soul already on its way out, she combs both the hospital and the small Texas town of Tulia for anyone she can terminate without challenging her inner morals.
The guy in the hospital room next-door appears to be nearing the end. Or maybe the local drunk who beats his girlfriend is a better choice? In the end, it doesn't matter. Someone must die, or else her daughter will.
For the most part, Hilditch is more concerned with thrills and chills than answering any of the questions he raises throughout the film's third act. Though I do appreciate the fact that Katrina isn't too savvy with a gun and struggles to come to terms with the unthinkable, it doesn't counter the fact that many things occur that don't entirely make sense, nor are they even wholly explained.
But alas, as the sun begins to drift over the canyon and Katrina starts to piece together the town's unique history involving a slew of murders and disappearances, you can't help but become hooked in the family drama that is unfolding. Though the conclusion is pretty obvious early on, it doesn't take away from the satisfaction that lies in the final few scenes. Rattlesnake isn't the best movie out there; however, its great mindless entertainment for those needed a late-night streaming option.
*This film is streaming globally on Netflix.
**This review originally appeared as part of our 2019 Austin Film Festival coverage.