You’ve seen the trailers, commercials, and the provocative posters, and from those you might think that BLACK SNAKE MOAN is a throwback to the racially/sexually-charged exploitation classics of the 1970’s; I mean, check out this poster, for fuck’s sake:
A scary-looking black dude in a wife beater, clutching a thick industrial chain that happens to be wrapped around a delicious-looking white trash gal in Daisy Dukes, an image that conjures up all manner of questionable — but fun — naughty fantasies, and for about a third of the film you get exactly what you’d expect. But then things get weird.
Set in some backwater Tennessee that feels like a mythological version of the South, the story focuses on Rae (a very much grown up Christina Ricci), the trashiest bit of juicy white trash imaginable, the town pump who’s hornier than forty bobcats in heat, and her shattered mental state when her boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) leaves for the army. No sooner does her man pull out of the driveway than our heroine falls onto the lawn in a crying fit and convulses as though her naughty bits are ablaze, swiftly relieving her needs with a huge, black crack dealer and subsequently attending an outdoor rave party where she gets drunk, scores some Oxycontin, smokes blunts, gets frighteningly ripped, plays a game of topless (except for a pair of regulation shoulder pads) football during which she fucks one of her teammates on the field while play continues (!!!), almost gets raped by her man’s best friend who instead beats the shit out of her when she laughs at how small his unit is, and gets unceremoniously dumped from his truck and left for dead on the side of a back road wearing naught but a cutoff T-shirt and a pair of panties.
On the flipside of this is the plight of Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson), a farmer and former bluesman whose wife leaves him for his younger brother, an act that is the final nail in the coffin of their marriage. Lazarus is understandably fucked up by his wife’s fucking off with his sibling, and after a drunken binge that includes him ransacking the house to rid all traces of his traitorous spouse and driving a tractor over her beloved rose garden, he discovers Rae’s body in a ditch near his driveway. He rescues the feverish girl, and after discovering who she is by asking around town, Lazarus decides to save the errant slut’s soul by chaining her to the radiator in his living room. Needless to say, Rae’s none too thrilled at that prospect and after a futile escape attempt and an even more futile seduction attempt, she settles in for some tough love, frustrated that her captor doesn’t want to fuck her. From there the film becomes mostly a study of two souls in deep pain and how their strange circumstance forges a bond between them, eventually saving both. And there's even a sweetly-blossoming romance between Lazarus and the local druggist (S. Epatha Merkerson, formerly Reba the Mail Lady on PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE).
BLACK SNAKE MOAN looks and feels sleazy in that humid, sweaty way found in Dixie-fried films like BABY DOLL (1956) and MANDINGO (1975), making one think it could be the product of Tennessee Williams if he wrote now (instead of being dead), and while it retains that flavor throughout its running time it sheds its vast prurient potential in favor of melodrama appropriate for an “After School Special,” albeit one replete with sex, violence, nearly nonstop foul language, and Christina Ricci’s oft-displayed and incredible boobies (not a body double, thank the gods, thereby guaranteeing a killing when this is released to DVD). You really get to care for Rae and Lazarus, and by the end of the film they develop a sort of father-daughter relationship, especially following Rae’s traumatic confrontation with her estranged mother regarding the incidents that lead to her nymphomaniacal ways. The finale remains hopeful yet ambiguous, as Rae tries to move on with her life and get her shit together, but it leaves the viewer wondering “what next?”
So here are the facts you need to know (SPOLIER WARNING!!!) if you’re looking for unadulterated sleaze:
1. The black man does not get killed.
2. The black man does not fuck the white trash gal, not that she would have been against the idea.
3. The white trash gal, out of sheer desperation, fucks an adolescent black kid while still chained to the radiator. When this is discovered the black man reminisces about his own first time, with his obese second cousin, and comments that he could have done better for himself.
4. Christina Ricci is sexy as hell and frequently topless, turning in the hottest performance by an A-list actress in recent memory. This film will serve as the closest thing to porn that will be seen on HBO and the like for a while, granting La Ricci stroke material immortality overnight.
5. There’s a great scene where the black man takes the more-or-less reformed white trash gal to a blues joint and she gets her squirmy dance on while he brings down the house with a scorching rendition of “Stackolee” that’s so good you’ll want to buy the soundtrack.
The bottom line on BLACK SNAKE MOAN is that it’s a far better film than you might expect, and while it will disappoint those looking for grubby thrills, it delivers with some really fucked up characterizations, good performances, and a story that, while a tad overlong, holds the interest.
TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!