Dr Khusi Pattanayak

Reptile(English, 2023) is stylish and creates an ambience of a smart crime thriller only to deliver an undercooked story.

When Summer Elswick (Matilda Lutz) is killed under mysterious circumstances, Tom Nichols (Benicio del Toro) is tasked with the duty to find the killer. What initially looked like a real estate deal gone wrong turns out to be much murkier a crime.

Reptile marks the directorial debut of seasoned music video director Grant Singer. As a first-time feature film director, Singer displays enough promise. The frames are striking so are the visual metaphors. The snake skin under a plant pot, rodent infected cupboard, unclean swimming pools in palatial properties are not just included for artistic purposes or to induce jump-scare but also to highlight that every house has its own demons; and the struggle these families undergo to keep their demons under the carpet.

The corrupt, the mighty, and the powerful being at the helm of this chaos narrative, it takes more than just a superficial look at them to know their lives; afterall they keep their social masks tightly close to their appearance lest their real face brings in unexpected consequences.

The first impressions are not the most accurate impressions in Reptile. People act and react differently than they are expected to; sometimes due to the demands of the situations; sometimes it is just their nature. Reptile has numerous scenes where mirror plays a significant role in delivering this mood, message, and duality of existence. They stand out; and linger long after you have switched off the screen.

But Singer’s inexperience reflects when it comes to delivering action and carrying the story forward with graceful finesse. The most obvious one is the use of ominous music at every other scene. A crime mystery does not have to rely solely on a specific technique to highlight the impending gloom. Repeating the same formula creates monotony, impairing the viewing experience.

To add to this, we also have a half-backed script (Singer is a co-writer) that hosts innumerable sub-plots and a messy second half. It is unnecessarily convoluted and does not have enough material to keep the interest alive beyond a certain point.

Despite its flaws, the music in Reptile remains reliable, providing an able support to the screenplay like the inclusion of Bob Dylan’s “Knock in’ on Heaven’s Door”; and so does Benicio del Toro’s performance. He adds consistency and depth to the procedural drama. He is the sole reason why one makes an effort to remain invested in a movie that creates a labyrinthine plot to explore something that is not exactly new to cine-goers.

Along with Benicio del Toro, the rest of the ensemble cast comprising of Justin Timberlake, Eric Bogosian, Frances Fisher, Domenick Lombardozzi, Ato Essandoh et al remain impressive, though with less screen time and with lesser scope for explaining their motives.

Just a note of warning, Reptile contains some aesthetically shot but visually disturbing details of violent crimes and gruesome description of human anatomy.

Reptile is for those who like to watch slow moody procedural dramas. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

(The author is an internationally published writer & corporate communication specialist. Views are personal)