Friday, October 23, 2015

The Serpent and the Rainbow

  This is the third Wes Craven movie I've reviewed in the span of a month or so. Give or take a couple weeks. They've all been wildly different, and all far from his towering icon of terror, A Nightmare on Elm St. It's been fun to explore his filmography, but it really hasn't been intentional. I didn't set out to watch Wes Craven films, I set out just to watch horror movies. I suppose those two things are wholly synonymous any way you slice it. Last House on the Left, Deadly Friend, and now this one, The Serpent and the Rainbow- have all been very unique experiences, but this movie was undoubtedly the odd one out. Set against the backdrop of revolution and corrupt local politics in Haiti, the movie is about an anthropologist hired to investigate the process of "zombification", which seems to have been perfected in the area.

  No, this isn't really a zombie movie. At least not in any sense that one would be familiar with. This is definitely a voodoo flick, if I were to try and classify it. I gotta say, it took me a bit to get into the movie. I think I was searching for more conventional horror fare, and this movie is anything but. Not to say it was bad, just... different. The anthropologist, Dennis, played with gusto by Bill Pullman- narrates the movie in voice-over. It was kind of distracting but not awful. I do feel that instead of having him explain stuff, they should've just shot more footage. But, whatever. No harm, no foul. The film doesn't really have slow pacing, per se, but instead more like... choppy pacing. Stuff happens, then there's lots of rambling dialog and odd scenes that feel rather pointless, then more stuff happens.
When the stuff happens, the movie is fine. When crazy stuff isn't happening I felt my interest waning.

  Yet, I'm willing to chalk that up to my own expectations rather than a fault of the movie itself. This movie shouldn't be pitched as straight horror, it's much more of a psychological thriller with a supernatural hue to it. The distinction is important, and while I do believe it is a horror movie, it doesn't move with the pacing or the rhythm of one. It belongs to a niche sub-genre of horror that is much more meditative and cerebral. Also, at the time of watching this, I was still very much coming off the high that Evil Dead left me with, which was much more visceral and in-your-face. Nevertheless... The Serpent and the Rainbow knows what's up, as they say. It's full of trippy horrifying nightmare sequences that only get scarier as the movie progresses because the line between dreams and reality start to blur.

  The movie makes excellent use of it's nightmarish imagery which is incredibly effective and properly scary. Dennis feels like a haunted man and his dreams certainly reflect that. Since we spend so much time inside his head, the voice over feels less out of place as the movie goes on, which is a good thing. To be truthful, this feels less like Wes Craven fare, and more like Ken Russell. (Dir. Altered States, The Devils, The Lair of the White Worm, etc.) It's an often surreal and nightmarish trip through a voodoo filled land. The majority of the striking imagery and trademark gore effects are solely in Dennis' nightmares and dreams- but not all of them. The movie has a hell of a climax and it was wild. There's a lot of symbolism and meaningful imagery in the movie, I didn't pay much mind to it. It could be a bunch of hot air, or it could actually have some neat messages in there. I wouldn't know.

   The movie is fun if you can let yourself get invested in the concept. Fine acting from a stellar cast doesn't hurt either. It's fairly middle-of-the-road fair otherwise. I hate saying that, because there's some standout sequences in here that are downright terrifying- but the movie didn't make a huge impact on me. It's definitely a cut above Deadly Friend, and I'd be quicker to rewatch this one over Last House on the Left- but there's something off about it. Rather uneven, though I can't figure out why. It had a satisfying climax, yet when the movie was over- it was just over. I feel like the topic and the subject matter should've resulted in a much more thought provoking movie. As is, it's well made shlock. A psychological fear trip that doles out scares with re-animated corpses, spiders, black magic, sadistic tyrants, and being buried alive.

   It's worth a watch, and maybe a re-watch eventually. I have nothing against this movie. It was exceptionally serviceable fare for a late Thursday night. I'm glad I saw it, and I had fun with it... but I think the concept had a lot more potential than Craven and co. has exploited. Might I suggest one of those Ken Russell movies instead. Or if you really want a good movie about voodoo/black magic, and are willing to trade the gorgeous local scenery of Haiti for the urban hustle bustle of New York- check out The Believers starring Martin Sheen and directed by John Schlesinger. Personally, while I'm a sucker for happy endings, I've just never really bought into the idea that there are any smile-worthy outcomes when dealing with dark forces like these. Of course, Craven is content to let good completely triumph over evil, and for now... that's okay.

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