Reptile Review

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Some thrillers are all about mood. However, Reptile sinks into it slowly. For almost two and a half hours, this slow-moving murder mystery maintains one single note of low key restiveness. Every scene is imbued with the same ambience, an indistinct uneasiness heightened by what the Netflix subtitles identify as “tense music”, an ambiguous sense of foreboding which gets under your skin. A man walking into a building? Ominous. A couple dancing at a bar? Ominous. A detective admiring an automatic kitchen faucet? You better believe that’s ominous too. This film quickly loses its persuasiveness because it never strays from this sense of imminent doom; it’s like a boy crying wolf once too often.

However, for a little bit it can work. The first few minutes have that kind of seductively wicked pull that draws one into the supposed New England perfect life of two young real estate agents, Summer Elswick (Matilda Lutz) and her boyfriend Will Grady (Justin Timberlake). It is not only the cloudy lighting arrangement that tells us there is trouble ahead but also Juice Newton’s timeless “Angel of the Morning” rising triumphantly on the soundtrack only to be abruptly cut off by a door being opened. The Reptile movie’s first genuine shock arrives just as suddenly when Will comes home to find Summer viciously stabbed to death. Her mutilated body is hidden from our eyes by the sudden appearance in bold lettering of the title across most parts of the screen.

Case number one in his new jurisdiction goes to seasoned detective Tom “Oklahoma” Nichols (Benicio del Toro), who takes his time working through it. The list of suspects is short but almost laughably loaded with believable whackos like her lover who seems more than capable while maintaining a very calm demeanor about him at all times thus making it impossible to exclude him from the list of possible murderers. Then there is the scum bag ex-husband (Karl Glusman) who looks like an actual police sketch with his pencil mustache framed by sharp cheekbones.

what gumshoe wouldn’t turn his magnifying glass on Eli Phillips (Michael Pitt), a townie who pulls the classic serial-killer move of appearing among the gaggle of onlookers outside the crime scene and holds a grudge against Grady’s local real-estate dynasty? On top of that, Eli is unfortunately played by Pitt, forever an onscreen creep who added some extra weirdness to TV’s Hannibal and the English-language Funny Games remake; depending on whether he’s really guilty or an easily recognized but not totally innocent red herring, this in part determines how transparently telegraphed its closing moments become.

Grant Singer also fits a bill with his debut feature. He stages scenes as if he were somebody coming up through music videos first: obsessed with surface effect more than ensuring he has a story line that moves well from one meticulously composed shot to another. The brisk editing, grimy overhead lighting and occasional plunges into file cabinets identify Reptile as yet another in a long line of David Fincher knockoffs such as The Little Things or Prisoners. In fact, much of the film seems done by someone who happened upon Zodiac or Gone Girl playing on cable years ago and decided to recreate it based off memory—not fully remembering all the details but getting at least some of the sickly slickness right.

A Gillian Flynn touch is what this movie really needs. Its façade is that of a Fincherian procedural, but not as filled with clues or complications or studiously observed lead-chasing. Ho-hum mystery by Singer, who also co-scripted it, only gets increasingly less fascinating as the detective approaches solution to it. (The biggest revelation, which ends up cracking the whole case is found out because of absurd negligence on the part of the accused.) Filling in the long duration are scenes where the detective’s personal and professional lives overlap. It’s interesting to note that his wife, Alicia Silverstone plays an encouraging unofficial partner which is a twist from police movies norms. Instead of incorporating into macabre mood a more playful thriller might have had some fun with their dynamic.

At least there is some craftsmanship to admire. The same creeping threat seen in films by Jordan Peele, David Robert Mitchell and M Night Shyamalan can be seen in Mike Gioulakis, Cinematographer too. He knows how to spot evil where it hides within suburban life through his experienced eyesight for all those hidden places in suburbia where evil lurks below its polished surface. But at root it’s Reptile’s cast that carries the film along. Del Toro makes you pay closer attention with his subtle approach above anything else. Lowering everything he says, one eye dominance used to say much more even when threatening another man overstepping with his spouse than any whodunit.

However maybe he was just sleepy perhaps so does the audience too . Reptile drones through its mystery almost daring audiences to slip away into daydreams; conceivably wishing us to miss out on several vital details then leave us thinking we saw something more suggestive and complex than what we actually did see . No ups and downs exist in this film just disquiet resting up; like flat-line connections between identically inflected moments. The detective thriller as looming white noise machine.

In the End

The only interesting aspect of this new Netflix thriller is Benicio del Toro’s understated performance as a soft-spoken detective, which smothers a thin murder mystery in heavy atmosphere. Grant Singer, a music video director making his feature debut, flirts with the sleek procedural style of David Fincher without delivering anything at all like Zodiac or Gone Girl; it has all the right moodiness but precious little actual intrigue to offer. Instead wait for The Killer.

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