Reptile – TIFF 2023

Reptile - TIFF 2023

Reptile takes place in the small town of Scarborough, Maine, where realtor Summer Elswick (Matilda Lutz) has been brutally murdered in one of her show homes. Tom Nichols (Benicio Del Toro), a homicide detective recently transferred from Philadelphia, is called in to find the killer. First suspicion falls on Summer’s boyfriend, fellow realtor Will Grady (Justin Timberlake), who found the body and with whom she argued with the night before. A couple more suspects appear in the form of Summer’s ex-boyfriend Sam (Karl Glusman) as well as the mysterious Eli (Michael Pitt), a creepy figure who holds intense personal resentment towards Will and his family. Sure enough, there’s much more to the case that meets the eye and Tom ends up entering a world of corruption where he doesn’t know who he can really trust. 

With the muted colour palette and grimy tone, director Grant Singer—a music video director making his full-length debut—clearly takes inspiration from neo-noirs and the works of David Fincher. Singer manages to establish tension early using sudden, loud audio cues and needle drops. It’s a horror-influenced trick that works effectively in the beginning, but later on it ends up feeling like a crutch to force tension in scenes that lack it. 

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Reptile’s biggest saving grace is Benicio del Toro’s performance. del Toro (who co-wrote the film alongside Singer and Benjamin Brewer) makes Tom feel like a real, lived-in character. The unseen events from Tom’s time in Philly (where he left after investigating a crooked partner) left him jaded and with a mounting sense of paranoia against everyone from his own co-workers in the force to even a handyman who he feels may be getting too friendly with his wife (Alicia Silverstone).

Reptile’s biggest saving grace is Benicio del Toro’s performance.”

Speaking of Silverstone, as much as her character doesn’t do much beyond the standard “concerned wife” category, the pair have great chemistry that makes their scenes together feel like a nice break from the bleakness of the rest of the film. Justin Timberlake’s performance, on the other hand, is fine albeit unremarkable for the most part. 

The biggest mark against Reptile is how lifeless the whole thing feels. The movie moves at a sluggish pace over the course of its nearly 2 and a half hour runtime.  It feels like every time most of the scene operates in three ways: either the scene feels like it ends before an interesting development happens, a scene where something interesting does happen, but it ends very quickly, or it’s a scene that’s cut with the aforementioned loud noises. Even the big twists feel by-the-numbers. By the time the movie finally reaches its admittedly intense conclusion, I was too checked out to really care.

Final Thoughts

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