Last Updated on November 27, 2023 by SPN Editor
“Reptile” marks the directorial debut of Grant Singer, a music video director who co-wrote the script with Benjamin Brewer and the film’s star and executive producer, Benicio Del Toro. Back in 2018, Grant Singer and Brewer began working on the initial draft of the film, which was later acquired by Black Label Media, a company that had previously collaborated with Del Toro on the “Sicario” films.
Del Toro became a strong supporter of the project. With a dark and gritty noir story, a stellar cast, and a release date that aligns with the autumn season, Netflix seems to be positioning “Reptile” as their answer to films like “Gone Baby Gone” or “Prisoners,” aiming for Oscar nominations. While it doesn’t quite reach those heights, it still manages to deliver a decent detective thriller with a unique style and committed performances.
Despite being Grant Singer’s directorial debut, he displays a firm grasp of filmmaking from both a stylistic and technical perspective. The film features some well-composed shots that effectively capture the environments in which the protagonist, Tom Nichols, conducts his investigations. The predominantly suburban setting often showcases the decay lurking beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic homes.
Although Tom Nichols doesn’t have the most complex character development, Benicio Del Toro, who is also a co-writer on the film, infuses humanity into the role. His on-screen chemistry with Alicia Silverstone, who portrays his wife Judy, elevates her character beyond what could have been an underwritten role.
Where the movie falls short is in its handling of the mystery aspect, particularly in how it introduces a range of suspects only to shift gears abruptly at the one-hour mark, leading the story in a different direction. While the writing in the film is generally satisfactory, it occasionally features dialogue exchanges that may come across as forced, and a dream sequence that doesn’t quite hit the mark.
For fans of dramatic procedural thrillers, there are elements to appreciate in “Reptile,” especially in terms of acting and visual presentation. However, the film’s mystery plot falls somewhat flat, despite having all the right components in place. It represents a somewhat stumbling start for Grant Singer’s directorial career but shows promise with refinement.
In “Reptile” on Netflix, a nearly perfect murder mystery is marred by one significant flaw – an abundance of subplots, some of which remain unexplained and unresolved.
Some thrillers thrive on setting a particular mood, but “Reptile” becomes engulfed in it. For almost two and a half hours, this slow-paced murder mystery maintains a consistent atmosphere of subdued unease. Every scene seems to carry the same sense of impending dread, amplified by the constant presence of what Netflix subtitles refer to as “tense music.”
Whether it’s a person entering a building, a couple dancing at a bar, or a detective admiring a kitchen faucet, everything is shrouded in ominousness. However, the film’s overreliance on this atmosphere causes it to lose its effectiveness over time, akin to someone repeatedly crying wolf.
The movie begins by introducing us to the seemingly idyllic life of two young real estate agents, Summer Elswick (Matilda Lutz) and Will Grady (Justin Timberlake), set against an ominous backdrop. This contrast between the apparent tranquility and impending turmoil is skillfully established.
However, the film’s first genuine shock arrives suddenly when Will discovers Summer brutally murdered. The title dramatically obscures our view, emphasizing the gruesome discovery.
Seasoned detective Tom “Oklahoma” Nichols (Benicio del Toro) takes charge of the case, albeit at a deliberate pace. The pool of potential suspects is small but filled with individuals who could plausibly be the culprit. Timberlake’s portrayal of Will keeps us guessing, thanks to his emotionally reserved performance.
There’s also a questionable ex-husband (Karl Glusman) who appears to match the profile of a suspect perfectly, and Eli Phillips (Michael Pitt), a local with a grudge against Grady’s real estate family, who fits the classic serial-killer mold. Pitt’s portrayal adds an unsettling layer to the character. The film’s direction hinges on whether he is the actual culprit or merely a predictable red herring.
Director Grant Singer, making his feature debut, exhibits a style reminiscent of someone with a background in music videos. He places a strong emphasis on visual aesthetics but occasionally falters in connecting these carefully composed images to create a cohesive narrative flow.
The film’s editing, stark lighting, and periodic explorations of file cabinets clearly pay homage to the influence of David Fincher’s work. However, while the film successfully captures the dark and sleek atmosphere, it occasionally loses clarity in storytelling.
“Reptile” suffers from a drawn-out mystery that becomes less engaging as it progresses. Some of the film’s dialogue exchanges are uninspiring, and certain plot points, particularly the pivotal revelation, are marred by implausibility.
The film’s prolonged runtime is further padded by scenes involving the detective’s personal and professional life. While the inclusion of Alicia Silverstone’s character as an unofficial partner offers a fresh take on the police-movie convention, the film’s overall gloomy tone overshadows the potential for a more playful exploration of their dynamic.
Nevertheless, “Reptile” boasts some commendable aspects. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, known for his work in films by Jordan Peele, David Robert Mitchell, and M. Night Shyamalan, provides striking visuals that effectively convey the sinister undercurrents beneath suburban life. The film’s performances, particularly Benicio Del Toro’s understated portrayal of Detective Nichols, stand out. Del Toro’s subtle delivery adds depth to his character and keeps the audience engaged.
However, the film’s deliberate pacing and unrelenting atmosphere of unease lead to a monotonous viewing experience. “Reptile” maintains a single, unchanging tone, resulting in a lack of highs and lows. It becomes a detective thriller characterized by unending foreboding, akin to a continuous loop of disquiet.
For a brief moment, “Reptile” effectively sets the stage with a seductively sinister atmosphere, drawing viewers into the seemingly ideal life of real estate agents Summer Elswick and Will Grady. However, as the film progresses, it loses its grip on the audience’s engagement, becoming ensnared in its own brooding ambiance.
The movie’s unrelenting tone, paired with its lack of narrative complexity and clues, ultimately hinders its ability to sustain interest. While there are elements to admire, such as the cinematography and performances, “Reptile” struggles to break free from its monotonous foreboding, resulting in a detective thriller that operates as a continuous hum of unease.’
Release Date: September 22, 2023 (USA)
Director: Grant Singer
Story By: Grant Singer, Benjamin Brewer
Distributed By: Netflix
Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis
Music By: Yair Elazar Glotman
- Benicio Del Toro as Tom Nichols
- Alicia Silverstone as Judy Nichols
- Justin Timberlake as Will Grady
- Michael Pitt as Eli Phillips
- Sky Ferreira as Renee
- Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz as Summer Elswick
- Frances Fisher as Camille Grady
- IMDb: 6.9/10
- Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
Signpost Moview Reviewers award 4 out of 5 stars!