Movies come and go from Netflix all the time. With so many must-see movies and TV available to stream, you can't be expected to keep track of everything on any given month. That's where Inverse comes in. This week, there's only one movie you need to watch on Netflix before it leaves on Tuesday, May 19.
In 2006, Samuel L. Jackson was having something of a career renaissance. Perhaps overshadowed by the underperforming but much-hyped movie about snakes on a plane, there was another sort of snake movie that is actually better.
That movie is Black Snake Moan, the comedy/drama directed by Craig Brewer. In its immersive sweltering Tennessee summer, Sam Jackson plays Lazarus, a religious pastor with severe control issues. After learning his wife and brother had an affair, Lazarus "kidnaps" a sex addict, Rae (Christina Ricci), and vows to turn her from her sinful ways.
It sounds like a horror movie, or maybe some twisted Stolkholm Syndrome tale. Thankfully, Black Snake Moan is neither. It's also more complex than you can imagine or remember.
Set to a foot-tapping blues-rock soundtrack and punctuated by laugh-out-loud gags, Black Snake Moan is a gritty character study imbued with Southern racial tensions, sexual politics, and the so-called purity of one's soul. Rae, a sultry Dixie gal who is the chaotic neutral descendant of Daisy Duke, is the result of horrid yet commonplace child abuse. She is a person defined by sexuality, including but not limited to her own.
Throughout Black Snake Moan, men surround Rae like vultures. They are both repulsed and allured by her, their cognitive dissonance reducing Rae into a thing passed around town. "Sometimes she needs the real deal, so she calls me up," says Tehronne, played by rapper David Banner. (Fun fact: Banner got his stage name from the cult series The Incredible Hulk. Two years after Black Snake Moan, Jackson debuted as Nick Fury, a recurring role throughout the Marvel film franchise.)
When Lazarus' questioning into Rae prompts Tehronne to accuse him of being interested, he says to Lazarus: "You wanna hook up with that, I ain't in your way. That switch of hers been all over town anyway. She got that sickness, you know?"
To its own fault, Black Snake Moan isn't repulsed by Rae either. "The sickness" of Rae manifests in orgasmic writhing and, yes, moaning from Ricci, who spends the majority of the movie in a halved t-shirt, panties, and metal chains evocative of BDSM. No doubt certain Millennials, aging into their teens and twenties when Black Snake Moan hit, remembered Ricci as their adolescent crush from Casper and Now and Then. A topless Ricci, dripping wet in a bathtub baptismal, had an obvious appeal.
For Ricci's part, she saw an opportunity in her bareness. She told Yahoo she opted for an unhealthy, sugar-filled diet. "Someone mentioned something about her looking like she's only been fed sugar her whole life," Ricci said, "I started to eat only sugar, basically nothing with nutritional value, and it kind of worked because I look really unhealthy in the movie."
Even when the cameras weren't rolling, Ricci stayed half-naked. ”Sam would be like, ‘Put some clothes on!”’ she told Entertainment Weekly in 2007. ”I was like, ‘No, you don’t understand. I’m doing something important.”’
But Ricci is only one-half of what makes Black Snake Moan a must-see. Jackson's Lazarus is a damaged man of the cloth who exerts physical "control" over Rae in ways that are at times repulsive and comedic.
Reminiscent of Frollo in Hunchback of Notre Dame (a Disney villain driven by his own interest in the promiscuous Esmeralda), Lazarus is at odds over what to make of his keeping Rae hostage. "I ain't no saint. I ain't saying I ain't weak," Lazarus says while tending to a boo-boo on Rae's knees. "And I do got sin in me. I ain't gonna lie about that. But I got respect!"
He shields himself behind the Bible, but he certainly gets off at keeping Rae as long as he keeps his "wick dry" too. That the movie gives Lazarus a romantic subplot in a more age-appropriate pharmacist, Angela (S. Epatha Merkerson) gives Black Snake Moan a convenient moral pass, for better or worse.
Your mileage varies if you're willing to endure a series of mind games played between an unstoppable force and an immovable object. Either way, Black Snake Moan is a movie worthy of one's two hours in quarantine. It has juicy conflict and a twisted moral compass, all set to a killer soundtrack immersed in a characteristically distinct southern American backdrop.
And i staying inside has you missing the buzzing of cicadas, the rustle of grass beneath bare feet, live music played in sweaty bars selling cold Bud Lights, Black Snake Moan is an escape — one that chains you to it.
Black Snake Moan is streaming on Netflix until May 19.