Bad Example: Silent Venom

by Jay Stringer

Snakes on a Plane was fun. It showed us that it’s a great idea for terrorists to use snakes as weapons, because they cannot be detected by heat sensors. It also showed us that terrorists should under no circumstances use snakes as weapons,  because it’s a really dumb idea.

At the same time it was really only asking us to swallow a few ridiculous things and then run with the consequences.  The trouble is that filmmakers like to jump on bandwagons; we’ve had snakes on planes, snakes on trains, snakes on skates in space. There’s probably a film in a bargain bucket somewhere that has snakes on motorbikes.

I don’t think Silent Venom saw the film that it was imitating though. It doesn’t know how silly it is, and it’s so full of implausible things that, by the end, the snakes seem to be the most plausible.

Straight from the off, we’re shown an island in the China seas where an American military project is underway. Not sure how China would feel about this, but who cares? The U.S. military has chosen this island to run experiments on snakes, because they don’t realize what a dumb idea that is. And also, the island is contaminated by nuclear testing, so the snakes get really, really big.

So far, so realistic, right?

Things get tricky when the Chinese navy start doing military training manoeuvres, and the U.S. needs to evacuate its secret scientists before they are found. (Wouldn’t it have been much safer in the first place to have the experiments taken place in American waters?) To evacuate the scientists the Military sends a decommissioned sub with no weapons into the middle of the full Chinese navy, and yet somehow they don’t see the word distaster written across the mission in big, black letters. In fact it’s 25 minutes into the film before anybody says, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

So there you have it. The sales pitch of the film, the snakes are on the sub. And we only needed to accept several implausible things in half an hour of film time to get there. The snakes get loose of course; otherwise it would be a pretty boring story of a submarine taking some scientists to America. And never mind what went before, here is where things get silly. The crew start to get sick one by one, each slipping into a coma and eventually dying. The ships doctor has no idea what’s going on; all he knows is that they all have a bite mark and that in each case, “it’s as if there is some venom in them attacking their nervous system.” I would have thought that an experienced medical officer of any field, when describing the exact definition of snake venom, might begin to suspect the presence of snake venom. If it wasn’t enough to find snake-bites and snake venom, they also find snake skin. Still they are none the wiser as to what the problem is.

This is where I start to get picky with a film’s writing. As with last week, a film needs to earn its unbelievable elements. The real things, the logical things, the need to be sound. If you want giant, venomous, nuclear snakes, fine, have them. But that’s not an excuse to ignore logic. The sub is running beneath the Chinese navy and needs to run silent, but the captain still keeps talking to his crew across the PA system. It gets better, the film climaxes with a fight between the captain and a giant snake; the captain wins by jamming a live electrical cable into the snake’s mouth and electrocuting it Jaws 2 style. Why the captain doesn’t also die is a mystery, perhaps he is protected because the snake is made of rubber?

Continuity is none existent. The last scene of the film is cargo being loaded for transport, someone says, “lets get this loaded on the plane.” The very next shot is of a helicopter taking off. The film opens with someone being eaten by a giant snake, the biggest snake in the entire film. This snake is never seen again; it’s not on the submarine and serves no point in the plot at all. Why hire an actor and pay for CGI for something that serves no point and will never be referenced?

So if the premise is no good, and the writing is bad, does the film have any redeeming features?

Well, the cast is not bad. In fact, you can do at lot worse than headlining your low-budget horror movie with Luke Perry, Krista Allen and Tom Berenger. None of them are great actors, but they’re all solid, they know how to deliver lines and not fall over. In fact Perry seems quite comfortable as a world-weary soldier, and Allen manages to fill an empty role with a little sympathy. I liked the underplayed sexual tension, too many films go for the obvious and I found it strange that such a cheap and flawed film actually made such a good decision here.

The film doesn’t seem to know which tone to go for, which seems to be an increasing problem with filmmakers these days. The acting and directing is too straight to capitalize on the obvious camp nature of the plot, and there are no scares to make it a horror. For a film of this kind to succeed, it needs to find an identity on DVD, to be either surprisingly good or amusingly bad. It needs to do something that will make it a fun watch with a few friends and a couple of beers, but really all it achieves is a passable impression of moving wallpaper.

It seems tempting to give films like this a free pass. They don’t have a big budget, they can’t cast high calibre stars and they have to rely on stock footage for most of the action. If those were the films problems, I’d find it forgivable. If the film suffered because of its cast, its effects or it’s budget, then we could look for its positives and mark it as a brave attempt. But the problems are all avoidable;  a script that lacks common sense, a team that ignored continuity and logic and a director who seems to have slept through production.

It seems to be a film made with laziness, which is the worst kind of film.

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