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BLACK SNAKE MOAN (R) (2007)

Paramount

Official Site

Director: Craig Brewer

Producers: Stephanie Allain, John Singleton

Written by: Craig Brewer

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, S. Epatha Merkerson, John Cothran Jr.

Rating:


If nothing else Black Snake Moan will be remembered for the most provocative posters in memory. They convey the promise of broken taboos and lurid thrills. They serve their purpose well, they intrigue.

So far the television commercials have been far less successful in capturing the spirit of the film, I believe that’s because Black Snake Moan is really something we haven’t seen in many years from Hollywood. It’s a genuine Southern gothic melodrama, in the overheated tradition of Tennessee WilliamsBaby Doll and The Fugutive Kind and McCullersReflections In A Golden Eye. It serves up a delirious plot about bondage and redemption.

The film starts off boldly enough with a sex scene set to the propulsive blues of the Black Keys. In this respect Black Snake Moan certainly does live up to its advertisements’ promises of up-front sexuality. And indeed, as belle in distress Rae, Christina Ricci will spend most of the film in various states of undress. We learn that this is to be a final act of love before Rae’s boyfriend Ronnie (played by a hopelessly wooden Timberlake) takes off for the Army. Feeling abandoned, Rae casually engages in sex with a drug dealer and drunkenly succumbs to anonymous sex at a party, before enduring a vicious beating, and being left for dead on the side of a road.

Fortunately for Rae, she has been deposited on the premises of another abandoned soul. Lazarus (played by Jackson) takes in the damsel and nurses her back to health. An episode of nightmarish sleepwalking convinces him to take the unusual precaution of chaining his feverish patient to a radiator. Of course when Rae regains her senses she has no desire to explain her situation to the old blues singer whom she reasonably suspects may be some kind of S&M freak, but Lazarus is determined to get to the bottom of this girl (so to speak), and a test of wills ensues. Naturally this surreal situation leads to some predictable humor, and hi-jinks. This is not unusual for the Southern gothic, a genre that so often mixes humor with tragedy. Anyone who’s seen God’s Little Acre will recall the hilarious divining scene.

The pleasures of Black Snake Moan come from the performances of Ricci and Jackson as well as the cleverly stylized dialogue that Brewer’s script provides for them. As in most Southern gothic works, realism is often sacrificed for sensation and style. In the real world barroom fights usually aren’t occasions for citing scripture, but within the modalities of the genre it seems perfectly reasonable. Still the psychological banality of the characters limits the effectiveness of the drama. Black Snake Moan uncoils into something considerably tamer than the posters suggest.

Ultimately Brewer proves himself too much of a humanist to follow in the masterly tradition of Southern gothic writers like Williams and McCullers, writers who recognized the destructive nature of human passions. People sometimes talk about there being a “New South”. Well perhaps Brewer has fashioned something new with this film—the cautiously optimistic Southern gothic.

—Edward Rholes

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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