Director: Amanda Evans
Cast: Sarah Dumont, Tom Ainsley
Runtime: 1 hr 26 mins
Rating: NC16 (Scene of Intimacy)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 7 December 2017
Synopsis: 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.
There is a simple, even simplistic, premise at the centre of ‘Serpent’: a young married couple at the crossroads of their marriage find themselves trapped in a tent with a venomous snake, while camping out in the remote South African wilderness outside of Cape Town.
It’s not hard to recognise the Biblical metaphor that first-time writer-director Amanda Evans has translated quite literally – and indeed, the opening scenes before Adam (yes really) and Gwynneth go hiking into an area called Suicide Gorge establish how Gwynneth is trying to end an affair by ignoring her lover’s incessant texts. In fact, rather than to accompany her conservationist husband’s trip he has just received funding for to discover a new species of beetle, Gwynneth has quite impetuously suggested to go along with Adam just so she can detangle herself from reality.
Despite some tension along the hike, Adam and Gwynneth eventually settle into their tent with wine and some seemingly long overdue intimacy. It’s not clear why she never thought of doing it before, but Gwynneth decides to step out in the middle of the night while Adam is fast asleep to delete the incriminating texts on her phone, inadvertently letting in the titular snake in the process. That’s no ordinary serpent mind you – the black mamba is no less than the world’s fastest land snake, the second largest venomous snake, and one of the deadliest apex predators known to man.
The next hour sees Adam and Gwynneth try to find a way to escape the confines of the tent, though not before Adam learns the truth about Gwynneth’s infidelity and confronts her about it. Those expecting some man (or woman)-versus-snake action will most certainly be disappointed; as it should be apparent by now, Evans intends for a meta-thriller that leans heavily on symbolism – shots of Adam reading the texts are intercut with the said serpent slowly slithering its way up Gwynneth’s legs; Adam’s physical outburst at Gwynneth at her betrayal is juxtaposed with the black mamba preparing to strike; and last but not least Gwynneth’s hallucinations after getting bitten on her forearm allude to Eve’s own confusion after the temptation in the Garden of Eden. Oh yes, the imagery does get pretty heavy-handed, and is further emphasised by Evans’ use of classic horror movie tropes.
That it remains an engaging watch is credit to her two performers, Dumont and Ainsley, who pretty much carry the entire film on their shoulders. You may remember Dumont from the funny satirical ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, and the actress proves just as magnetic here – not just in how she wears her emotions on her sleeves but also how she puts her sexuality to good use playing the woman whose physical desires had led the metaphorical serpent into her marriage in the first place. Next to Dumont, Ainsley comes across slightly bland, though the last third of the film that adds some complexity to his character does afford him more room for character play.
Despite its flaws therefore, ‘Serpent’ remains a sufficiently interesting filmmaking debut. Evans doesn’t entirely succeed in converting her B-movie premise into a compelling psychological study, but it is still a relatively intriguing watch for the most part. At least it never does outstay its welcome (coming in at just under one and a half hours) or over-stretch its slim story, so while it lasts, you’ll be kept under its well-coiled spell. COMING SOON
(A young married couple on the rocks trapped by a black mumba in their outdoor tent - it's as simple and symbolic as it sounds)
Review by Gabriel Chong