Brief Synopsis: A single mother, Katrina, takes her young daughter, Clara, to start a new life across America. As she is driving, she gets a puncture and is forced to stop and try and change the tyre. Whilst Katrina struggles to change the tyre, Clara goes playing in the dusty lands. Clara gets bitten by a rattlesnake, her screams causing Katrina to come running. Katrina seeks assistance in a nearby motorhome.
In the motorhome, a strange woman takes Clara and tells Katrina that she needs to change her tyre, they will work out payment later. When Katrina returns her daughter is fine and the woman has disappeared. Katrina takes her to the local hospital where the doctor says she just needs rest. Whilst in the hospital, Katrina is visited by a man who tells her she needs to take a soul or her daughter will be dead by sundown.
Is It Any Good?: Meh. Rattlesnake is a ponderous film, with relentlessly foreboding music and pseudo tension that never goes anywhere. British actress Carmen Ejogo, who plays Katrina, slips in and out of her American accent. An interesting premise is made a painful watch by the pace-free execution of the film.
Spoiler territory: After breaking up with her husband, Katrina Ridgeway (Carmen Ejogo), takes her young daughter, Clara (Apollonia Pratt), and is driving across the country to start a new life. Coming across traffic due to an accident up ahead, she takes a detour driving through Tulia. While out on the back road she gets a puncture and is forced to stop to change it.
Clara goes playing in the desert as her Katrina struggles with the tyre. A rattlesnake bites Clara. Clara’s screaming alerts Katrina to the fact that something has happened. She goes rushing towards her daughter’s screams and finds her on the ground. Katrina scoops her up and looks around for help. She sees a motorhome and runs to it. Going inside, she calls out for help but there does not seem to be anyone around even though there is food cooking on the stove.
A woman appears (Debrianna Mansini) and takes Clara from Katrina. She tells Katrina to go and fix her tyre and that they will discuss payment later. Katrina changes the tyre and returns to the motorhome. The woman has disappeared but Clara, who had been feverish and sweating and had two large puncture marks on her leg, seems fine.
Katrina takes her to the local hospital and doctor Hayes (Sean Dillingham) tells her that she is just a little dehydrated and needs some rest. There is no evidence of a snakebite on Clara’s leg. The doctor takes a look at Katrina and recommends that she also rest. Katrina returns to the room and finds a strange man (Bruce Davis) sitting in the room where Clara is resting.
He tells Katrina that her debt needs to be paid, a soul for a soul. Katrina thinks he is joking. The man tells her the debt is to be paid by sundown and shows Katrina what the consequences will be if the debt is not paid with Clara suddenly becoming feverish, sweaty and the bite marks reappearing on her legs. As the man tells she has until sundown, a bloodstain is seen spreading on his shirt.
Katrina screams for help and the nurses come running to the room. Back in the room, the man has disappeared and Clara is quietly resting. Katrina goes back to the spot where she broke down. As she looks at the old tyre a truck stops by her car. She sees the driver (Rio Alexander) get out and comes towards her. Katrina, thinking that the man is coming to help her, tells him she is okay. He keeps coming.
He takes a tyre iron from his pocket and Katrina realises he is not there to help. He shouts at her that Clara is going to die and she knows what she has to do. Gunshot wounds appear on the man, one in the eye and two in the chest. As Katrina falls to the ground in a panic, she grabs a rock to defend herself. The man begins laughing then he and the truck disappear.
A scared Katrina returns to the motel she is staying at opposite the hospital and researches the truck driver. She sees that he was shot dead. Back in the hospital, Katrina sees a man dying the room near her daughter’s. She befriends the man’s daughter. The daughter is Lorraine (Joy Jacobson) and she sits and talks to her in the canteen.
Katrina says to her that she just wants to sit with her. Lorraine takes her into the room with her father. Lorraine gets a call from her sister and so leaves the room to speak with her. Alone in the room, Katrina tries to get up the courage to suffocate Lorraine’s father. She is interrupted by people returning to the room. It is the family. The man dies shortly afterwards.
She leaves the hospital. As she sits in her car a young boy(Spencer Mabrey) comes up to the passenger side window and taps on it. He indicates that she is running out of time. He then beginnings to bash his head on the window until it is bleeding and then it smashes. Katrina falls out of her car and is nearly killed. When she returns to the car there is no sign of glass or the boy.
Katrina goes to a bar. As she sits drinking, a young woman, Abbie (Emma Greenwell), comes into the bar. She is a bit beat up and Francine (Arianna Ortiz) the bartender, who obviously knows her, asks what lie she is going to attribute her injuries to this time. Katrina looks at her and sees she has been assaulted. Abbie snaps at her a little.
Abbie has barely had a gulp of the beer she ordered when her abusive partner, Billy (Theo Rossi), comes in and tells her that they are leaving. Francine tries to intervene but is quickly shut down by Billy. Abbie does as she is told and gets up to leave. Katrina follows the couple out of the bar. She follows them home so as to get their address.
Katrina goes to buy a gun but because she is not a Texas resident is not allowed to purchase one legally. The gun shop owner gives her a contact that he has for her to get a gun. Katrina goes to see the contact, Earl (William Sterchi), he sells her a gun. He tells he knows that she wants to kill someone. She goes into the desert and has a few practice shots. Moderately confident, she goes to Billy and Abbie’s place.
Katrina kidnaps Billy and takes him to Palo Duro Canyon. When they get there Billy begins to beg for his life. When Katrina hesitates he attacks her, seeing a chance. They wrestle and he runs into the desert, hiding in the rocks. Katrina goes after him but cannot find him. She sees another vision, a young woman (Alexandra Nell), who says to her to pose as she takes a photo. As the sun begins to go down, the woman tells Katrina that she knows what she has to do.
Katrina asks the woman that if she does what they ask will her daughter be safe. The woman agrees and her neck breaks. The sun is going down. Katrina records a video for her daughter as she is planning to kill herself to save her daughter. Billy hits her with a rock. When she wakes up shortly, he is pointing the gun at her. She pulls a knife from her sock and begins to push it into her neck. Billy, surprised by her actions, does not notice the rattlesnake and gets bitten, falling to the ground.
Katrina sees he is still alive. She climbs down to him and slits his throat. The debt is paid. She goes and picks up her daughter and they drive out of Tulia. As they leave the town both mother and daughter see a hitchhiker. It is Billy. The end.
Rattlesnake is a pedestrian horror hokum from the pen of Zak Hilditch, who also directs. It is not a terrible film but, considering the premise and the built-in timeframe, before sundown, the film lacks urgency. Ejogo is believable as a frantic single mother, even if her American accent does falter in places. She emotes as well as one would expect and young Apollonia Pratt as Clara is cute enough without being irritating.
Ejogo’s Katrina conscience is the only thing offered up as an obstacle to her completing the necessary task of killing someone so as her daughter might survive. Hilditch takes the easy way out and gives her/us an easy character in Rossi’s Billy to dislike. Killing him is, in the context of the film and its stakes, wholly acceptable.
Once he had been introduced it was just a matter of whether or not Katrina would have the nerve to kill him. Even killing him is made more palatable by the fact that he is dying—from a rattlesnake bite—before she finishes him off. Before that point, except for her not being a Texan resident, there were no impediments to her killing some random unknown.
She got the gun she was after with no real trouble, only having to deal with a creepy guy. Her victim was selected for her by fate. He just happened to be a spousal abuser which, as we all know, makes him ripe for murdering.
The rest of the film is pretty lazy—foreboding music? Check. Dodgy creepy guy? Check. A tough decision thwarted by fate? Check. Scary stuff that only the protagonist can see? You get my drift. Another cheat Hilditch goes with, though it is more forgivable and works, for the most part, is not having a proper antagonist.
The woman who heals Clara is only seen in that one scene and is then only referenced as silhouettes in various photos as Katrina researches stuff online, hence the antagonist becomes somewhat ethereal, taking various guises as people who had met their demise before, it is intimated, under similar circumstances.
As I said, Rattlesnake is not terrible but it is not good either. At only eighty-five minutes long it feels horribly slow for most of its runtime and at no point is the pace issue overcome. You can watch Rattlesnake if the premise makes you curious but beyond that, you can probably give it a miss.