Get behind me, Satan
BLACK SNAKE MOAN Directed by Craig Brewer. Starring Samuel L Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake 16 cert Cineworld/ IMC Dún Laoghaire/ Movies@Dundrum/Screen/Vue, Dublin, 115 min
WOKE up this morning, strange film in my head/Sam Jackson got Christina Ricci all chained up to his bed.
Mr Jackson actually attaches the saucer-eyed firecracker to his radiator in this profoundly puzzling entertainment, but, rhyme being as much a part of the blues as misery, we will ask you to grant us a little leeway. Craig Brewer, director of the dubious Hustle & Flow, has – I can only guess – set out to bring the raw sexuality and lascivious melodrama of the blues to mainstream cinema.
To some extent he succeeds. But, until church and traditional morality eventually assert themselves, the film stinks as much of AC/DC and Whitesnake as it does of Robert Johnson or Howling Wolf. Indeed, its already notorious poster (the chained Ricci curls around Jackson’s leg) carries several reminders of the cover of Spinal Tap’s Smell the Glove. What is going on?
Black Snake Moan begins with Ricci, all cut-off shorts and microscopic T-shirt, waving goodbye to her boyfriend (the consistently impressive Justin Timberlake) as he heads off with his National Guard troop to lose some foreign war. Before the bus has reached the freeway, Ricci has fallen to her knees in a paroxysm of sexual desire.
After several ill-advised carnal encounters, more than a few ingestions of proscribed chemicals and at least one savage beating, the misguided young woman is dumped on a dusty track a short distance from Mr Jackson’s shack. He, it transpires, was once a blues musician and, having just seen his wife run off with his brother, is not kindly disposed towards manifestations of female desire. Out comes the chain. Out comes the Bible. A healing time has begun.
Black Snake Moan is, it must be said, a terrifically well-made picture. The scarier parts of rural Tennessee are so evocatively summoned up you expect flies to escape the screen, and the skilful integration of apocalyptic blues songs both drives and reflects the action very effectively. But it remains a distinctly unsavoury piece of work.
Reversing other, ugly stereotypes concerning the sexual potency of black men, this anti- Mandingo, by allowing Ricci’s character to suffer from desire as Linda Blair suffered from possession in The Exorcist, seems, for most of its duration, disgusted by the burdens of corporeality. Then, at the end, it reveals its conservative conviction that religion, social convention and the attentions of wise old men can cure us of the sin of being ourselves.
If you like brimstone with your sexploitation, then get in line.
Repent, sinner: Christina Ricci will soon feel the wrath of God in Black Snake Moan