Director: Craig Brewer
With reason pitched clearly out the plate glass window, this film will keep your eyes glued to it, even though they may be rolling in disbelief. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy watching “Black Snake Moan,” but I can’t help but think that it may overstay its welcome. Unabashedly showcasing in-your-face metaphors, writer/director Craig Brewer (writer/director of 2005's "Hustle & Flow") makes his bid for cult status. I guess people already know what this film is about, and if not: A nympho-girl gets chained to a radiator by a has-been musician, in an attempt to cleanse her of her "sinfulness." Together they conquer their respective demons and learn to give each other the things they had been missing (no, not those things).
I think this film is really brave, and was glad to see that it didn’t simply use its gimmick in an excuse to just film scenes of a girl in her underpants chained to a radiator (a noble cause in its own way, I guess) in order to merely shock viewers. Viewers that get a kick out of the premise will be delighted and snicker (obviously the reaction the film was stoking) as they see Lazarus (played by Samuel L. Jackson) taking his captive, Rae (played by Christina Ricci), for a walk out in his field like a bloodhound. This shows that Brewer knew the film he wanted to make, respected the sensationalism genre he was dabbling in, and wasn't afraid to push the limit, or comment on the audacious premise. All the performances were really strong, and rose to the heights they were required to reach in a charmingly hammy way. They would reel it in when they needed to convey emotions, and be over-the-top when they needed to hammer a point home (the latter type of performance works beautifully hand-in-hand with the visuals, which are used like exclamation points on the overly dramatic scenes). It’s all drenched in a dark, exploitative and surrealistic "Southern" feel, with blatant Biblical overtones that’s reminiscent of Russ Meyer’s “Mudhoney,” and comes across as more of a nod to exploitation films, much the way Tarantino’s “Death Proof” used the grindhouse cinema as a springboard to explore new territory. Incidentally, this film could have easily been included as part of the movie "Grindhouse" to create the ultimate, modern day schlock triple-feature.
This film won’t bore you, which is more than I can say for most movies, and the performances make it that much better. A lot of it seems superfluous, however. There’s a love story involving Lazarus and another woman that basically plays itself out the way you think it will from the moment the two characters begin conversing. There are a lot of iconic images in this film that I loved. There’s a scene where Lazarus plays Rae a song on his guitar amidst a lightning storm in his old abandoned house that’s really quite impressive and memorable. Another musical interlude involves Lazarus playing his first gig in years, and the characters all converge for a great scene. I think this films main problem is that it needed another trip through the editing room. There are some characters and plotlines that didn’t seem necessary, and the philosophy of the film would have been more effective if the story moved along a little smoother. It's almost like it tries to cram in too much to what should have been a simpler story, and that causes it to lose a little of its effectiveness. On the plus side, Brewer creates a great Southern atmosphere (You know, the kinds of places where people have cigarettes surgically attached to their hands, and speak a language that's almost as intelligible as Klingon).
There’s a lot of good stuff in this film (i.e. the music, the performances, and the stylish imagery), and it’s definitely worth sussing through to find it. The characters are all handled with care, and aren't there to simply amuse us. They go through honest emotions, and trials and tribulations amidst an equally chaotic setting and premise. It feels a little odd barely even mentioning the whole chained-to-a-radiator section of this film, but that’s not even the reason to see it at all. It’s just used as an homage to sexploitation grindhouse films, and the imagery that they utilized that really works in the deep South backdrop that Brewer creates so authentically (except for the whole "prostitutes-getting-chained-up" thing -- at least I hope that's not authentic, but what do I know?). Realistic dialogue and a mixture of stock characters and truly original and brave ideas make this film very rich and entertaining. I say, “See it,” and keep and eye out for Craig Brewer, whose best work is, I think, yet to come, and probably going to be quite a ride.