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Black Snake Moan (2006)

A burned-out, one-time bluesman is walked out on by his wife, and winds up taking an interest in helping the town slut with her personality problems. Written and directed by Craig Brewer, this is a heartwarming Southern gothic - which is to say that it sets up what seems to be a melodramatically horrid situation (evoking the obscure Dennis Hopper-Asia Argento film The Keeper) then moves towards 'healing' and 'closure' rather than a last-reel stabathon. Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson, with Uncle Remus-look grey hair) finds Rae (Christina Ricci, looking a lot like the porn star Gauge) beaten and bloodied in the road outside his isolated farm, after she has been assaulted by the best friend of the soldier (Justin Timberlake) she can't be faithful too. He helps her get better, but chains her up to curb her wild ways - and, though she backslides by seducing the first boy who calls on the farm, she comes to appreciate the attention and does make an attempt to straighten up, to the extent of marrying her mustered-out-for-anxiety beau.

It has a very strange conception of nymphomania as something between epilepsy and demonic possession, and Ricci's performance is weirdly watchable on a level beyond entertaining sluttiness and cut-off shorts, and though there are some credible aspects (Lazarus doesn't call in the cops because he has frequently suffered from the law 'for bein' black and nearby') other moments (like Rae's wild dancing in a juke joint when Laz gets back to his guitar not leading to her being gang-banged by the guys or crucified by the other girls in the room). Timberlake, the lightweight in this company, shows some promise as the dim but decent guy - though few would take bets on the happy marriage of the finale enduring very long.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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