Robert McQueen, the protagonist in Julius Amedume’s Rattlesnakes, is a life coach-cum-yoga trainer based in California.
But we soon forget what he does for a living and instead turn to how and if he will survive the attacks by three men who suspect him of cuckolding them.
In the feature film, adopted from Graham Farrow’s acclaimed play, the three men, in masks no less, set off to ambush McQueen at a rented apartment, where he is expected to meet one of the men’s wives.
They get there, alright. All three of them. All indignant. All enraged. All ready to extract confessions and spill blood. Then they set upon him, and lily-livered McQueen spills the beans, telling secrets of each and every relation.
With each revelation, the masked men don’t get the release and righteous anger they were seeking; instead, they get tormented. While each of the men claims to know their wives, it emerges they don’t!
Rattlesnakes, which had its East African debut at the recently concluded 2019 Rwanda Film Festival, is a story of distrust, manipulation and betrayal, first revealed within couples, then all the way to McQueen, who turns out to have been a conman: All along he was targeting wives of wealthy men!
He would lure the women into withdrawing money from their husbands’ accounts and handing it over to him.
McQueen escapes the three masked men’s beatings and wrath by playing their minds, then turning them against each other.
They say imitation is the best form of flattery. Indeed, Amadume has done a marvelous job of farrow’s play in this 86-minute neo-noir psychological thriller, keeping the protagonist with us even as he takes us behind the scenes, showing us what is coming even when the characters see and act otherwise.
“I decided that resetting the story in America and changing some of the characters and their back stories would help, as long as the core of the story stayed true to the original play,” Amedume explains.
“Making McQueen black and setting the film in America, was my first choice. One could explore stereotypes, negative and positive connotations and add a component of underlying racial tension within film that originally played strongly with marital infidelity,” he adds.
Interestingly, and timely so, Amedume introduces the rattlesnake only towards the end. As one of the three men returns to the house to focus on their joint mission of torturing McQueen, he sees the snake at the balcony but ignores it. We next see the snake in McQueen’s car as he gets in ready ready to escape.
One can say the snake appears first as a warning before the bloodshed. It is ignored. When it appears next, it attacks the now guilty offender. A clear sign that no crime can go unpunished.
The feature film stars Jimmy Jean-Louis, Jack Coleman, Kathleen McClellan, Jay Acovone, Christian Oliver and Robinne Lee.
Rattlesnakes is produced by Jimmy Jean-Louis while Nik Powell is its executive producer.
Rattlesnakes won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2019 Pan African Film Festival.
It further won an Independent Film Production Spirit Award at the 2019 Screennation Film and Television Awards in London. Its lead actor was also nominated for best leading actor, while Amedume was nominated for the Michael Anyiam Osigwe Award for Best African Director Living Abroad at the 2019 African Movie Academy Awards in Nigeria.