SERPENT *** South Africa / USA 2017 Dir: Amanda Evans. 85 mins
A Cape Town-shot two-hander marking the narrative feature debut for South African writer-director Amanda Evans. We first meet businesswoman Sarah Dumont while she strives to evade the pushy guy with whom she is having an affair. In a further bid to distance herself from this indiscretion, she insists on joining entomologist husband Adam Kealey on his weekend excursion to “Suicide Gorge” in search of a recently discovered new breed of stag beetle.
The couple wind up in a microcosm of the 1970’s eco-horror cycle, confined to their tent and at the mercy of a Black Mamba while the relationship copes with the fall out of unravelling secrets. With its remote backdrop of equal parts unspoiled beauty and infinite natural threats, this movie imperils its good-looking couple in a hostile environment in the tradition of past two-handed eco-chillers like LONG WEEKEND and OPEN WATER. As with the earlier films, SERPENT balances a stripped-down survivalist thriller scenario with soap opera-style relationship dramatics. In a bold move and equipped with some impressive camera acrobatics, Evans traps the protagonists and the audience in the tent for the bulk of the movie like a snake-enhanced extension of the outstanding central set piece from Bobcat Goldthwait’s WILLOW CREEK. The dialogue highlights typical male insecurities (“What has he got that I haven’t?!”) while Evans exploits our primal fears in capturing a sense of sustained, claustrophobic panic. The impact lessens away from the tent, and a fleeting foray into body horror feels like it belongs in a different movie, but it’s a well acted calling card for Evans’ future endeavours.
Review by Steven West