Review: Snakeskin

Directed by Wesley Clapp and co-written with editor, Sydney Barbera and production designer, Megan White. When a young couple seeking a fresh start moves into a suburban neighbourhood, their marriage is put to the test when their new neighbours start toying with them. Starring: Sydney Amanuel, Bernice Amelia Cross, Elizabeth Harnett, Kathleen Alicia Kelly, Nick Mauldin, Jeffrey M. Rossman, Janice Rudolph, Linda E. Simon and Kathleen Spellman.

Snakeskin sets off its unsettling atmosphere from the second it bursts onto the screen, it’s undeniable that beginning a scene upside down and slowly rotating the camera, adds an immediate layer of intrigue and sinister tones. It’s certainly further aided by the focus of that great shot being Emmi’s (Amanuel) latest painting, while her style is capturing houses on canvas, this particular example also includes a gigantic snake escaping through its roof. Emmi and her husband Aaron (Mauldin) have recently decided to move into their new, relatively remote house, surrounded by elderly neighbours, a couple of whom make a very abrupt, uninformative and eerily quiet introduction, wherein they don’t actually introduce themselves. Anyone who’s watched their fair share of horror films will quickly understand what this interaction means and why they should be wary of the neighbourhood.

However, after that initial injection of fear or darkness, the film falls mostly into a dramatic rhythm, exploring their troubled and toxic marriage. After setting up a clear intention with the strangely dressed neighbours who are especially drawn to our newcomers, it’s slightly confusing why so much time is spent focusing on the husband. It establishes that he has anger issues, is clearly resentful of his wife, potentially abusive and a little bit of a misogynist, but most of that feels like it’s slightly taking away from the story at hand. It works extremely well to make Aaron a detestable character but it seems as though a deeper, more twisted exploration of their unusual neighbours could have shared the use of that time. The little that their behaviour is explored doesn’t tell you too much, resulting in the overall tone coming across as more drama with a dash of horror, the latter does more strongly influence the film in its final moments but again, it comes across more like a statement on their toxic relationship than reflecting the horror angle.

The direction is well done, while every shot may not be quite as strong as that opening, it follows the tone of each scene and does occasionally linger just slightly too long on certain moments but there’s no errant or misplaced shots, which sounds simple but for a director in their early days, it’s a solid achievement. It’s a great setting, the locations come across as a well established neighbourhood despite never needing to show too much of it. The film also massively benefits from how the horror genre has built a fear of ‘perfect’ or ‘idyllic’ neighbourhoods, if everything looks spotless and the neighbours are extremely nice, you’re usually better off getting out while you can, and in this case they just slide right into that vibe. Adding to that, introducing a woods type setting, always sets off other alarm bells, so while that stronger focus on the horror aspects of the story isn’t really there, there are clear influences at play.

Most of the acting weight lands on Mauldin as Aaron, with the majority of dialogue thrown his way, as said he does a great job of making the character unlikable but there is a slight wooden quality holding him back from really pushing it to its limit. It’s a similar case with Amanuel, she does well with presenting Emmi as in a vulnerable, slightly damaged state but the moments where emotions are at their peak, it doesn’t feel quite as sincere as it should. Both roles are asking a lot within a short amount of time so granted, it’s a difficult task that both of them serve well.

A lot of raw potential is at work with this film, there are a number of elements with the direction and writing that demonstrate talent but everything isn’t quite working together in a way to achieve its full potential. A better blending of the dramatic and horror elements of the story could have facilitated the thriller-esque tone that it was going for, but the balance falls too strongly towards exploring their relationship rather than the lurking danger. It’s a great concept that hits upon some classic horror tones, but while you can see the intention, its focus unfortunately tends to land in the wrong places.

Verdict: ✯✯✯

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