Psychological thriller Serpent tells the story of Gwynneth (Sara Dumont) and Adam (Tom Ainsley), a married couple who travel to South Africa so that Tom can study a rare beetle. However, things aren’t the great when the two of them become trapped in their tent with a deadly Black Mamba, and Tom discovers that Gwynneth has been having an affair.
The concept of Serpent isn’t a bad one, that of being trapped in a confined space with one of the most venomous and aggressive snakes in the world, but the film can’t survive solely on this. There is only so much of two people laying in a tent not moving you can watch before it becomes boring. As such, the film has to bring something extra to the table.
Writer and director Amanda Evans chose to make a relationship drama; again, this isn’t a bad choice. Whenever people are trapped in dangerous situations together, personal interactions can be pushed to the extreme and relationships can be strengthened or destroyed completely. However, the biggest issue is that it’s hard to care about Gwynneth and Adam.
They’re the only characters in the film and as such it’s down to them to populate this world for the audience. Gwynneth starts the film apparently trying to break off her affair (although it’s hard to tell for certain as she never states this once). She is ignoring calls and from whomever it is that she’s been sleeping with. It gives the sense that she’s trying to get away from him and wants to rededicate herself to her marriage, especially when she begs Adam to take her with him on his trip.
It’s easy to see why she would have an affair and hard to understand why she wants to be with Adam as the two of them have very little chemistry. The film is filled with long, awkward silences between them, one of them walking off screen instead of answering a question, or long glaring looks. They feel like a couple whose relationship is already long over.
Whilst you could chalk this up to Adam having been suspicious of Gwynneth having an affair it’s pretty obvious by his reaction when he finds the messages on her phone that he’s taken completely by surprise. That actually leads me to one of my biggest issues with the relationship drama between the two of them.
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Adam uses her phone’s screen light to try and distract the snake whilst inside the tent. He picks up her phone and it immediately unlocks, bringing her texts with her mystery man up on screen. Now, anyone who is seriously cheating on a partner would have a lock on their phone, would not have the messages open ready as soon as the phone unlocks, and if the affair is over, they would delete all of those messages. The fact that as soon as Adam touches her phone all the evidence pops up on screens is incredibly convenient for the plot and unbelievable for real life.
With the added realisation that his wife has cheated on him, Adam discovers that he’s trapped in a tent with two serpents (I see what the film did there). Whilst most people would probably shelve this issue until they’re more hand inches away from a horrible death, Adam decides that it’s a perfect time to pin his wife down and try to strangle her to death. His pregnant wife I might add.
The cheating wife trope, the unfiltered physical violence he enacts upon her, the use of Serpent as the title, and the poster of the snake slithering over a woman’s mouth in a mock shushing finger pose all make the film feel very misogynistic and a little sexist. It plays up to tired old tropes and hackneyed storylines that not only feel out of place for 2018, but astounding when considering they were written by a woman.
The actual snake feels very secondary for much of the film, only really coming into play in the final act when both parties end up bitten. Luckily they have some meds that will save them, but only enough for one person. What kind of person goes out into an area they know is full of dangerous snakes and only brings the one dose? Seriously?
The ambiguous ending is both incredibly grim and unsatisfying. The personal drama feels strangely forced and the relationship between the two characters is mostly unbelievable. Despite some brilliant performances from Dumont and Ainsley, the film ends up feeling drab, overly long and very underwhelming.
Serpent is released available on digital download from Monday, 15 October. Check out the trailer and let us know what you think in the comments section.