Reptile Can’t Shed Its Predictable Skin

Cr. Netflix ©2023

Reptile is a throwback crime flick, a twisty, turny thriller that feels plucked from the ’90s. The premise is simple: a real estate agent (Matilda Lutz) is murdered in a home she’s selling. All the usual players are involved: the shady ex-husband (Karl Glusman), the current affair and partner (Justin Timberlake), the grizzled detective (Benicio del Toro) and his wife (Alicia Silverstone), and the young detective (Ato Essandoh). As the investigation gets under way, the case becomes personal and nothing is as it seems.

Visually, Reptile is lush. There’s a vibrancy to the color grading that turns Atlanta, Georgia, into the coastal town of Scarborough, Maine. It’s an impressive magic trick, one that firmly roots the audience in the northeast. Even with the lush green backgrounds, there’s a darkness that seeps into the film. It’s not shadowy enough to be a full-blown noir, but the film gives the impression that there’s a fog always just about to roll in from off screen. As aesthetically appealing as it is, Reptile would have benefited from going full-on coastal noir. There’s a prestige-television slickness that’s hard to ignore. Most Netflix films have a similar look, but there are some lovely glimpses of a directorial voice peeking through in Reptile from Grant Singer in his feature-length debut.

Perhaps because it’s one of the standout films of the past decade, it’s difficult not to see glimmers of Gone Girl in Reptile. While there’s not a lot in common between the two plots,  Timberlake’s role creates the feelings of similarity. Where Timberlake’s Will is the affair partner, Ben Affleck in Gone Girl was the husband. Both are prime suspects, but Timberlake lacks the sleaze of Affleck. Timberlake doesn’t have the smarmy attitude or enough comfort in front of the camera to really sell his performance. It feels flat and stilted, like he’s acutely aware of his duties as an actor.

Will stands with his hands on his hips
Cr. Daniel McFadden/Netflix ©2023

On the other end of the performance spectrum is del Toro, who shares a co-writing credit on the film with Benjamin Brewer and director Grant Singer. It’s not surprising that del Toro thrives as the closed-off detective with a complicated background because it’s the sort of role he’s played time and again throughout his career. Reptile also marks the reunion of del Toro and Silverstone, who were in 1997’s Excess Baggage, an oft-forgotten movie that was a box office bomb. The two play husband and wife, and while Silverstone’s Judy does help solve the murder, she doesn’t have much to do except when she and del Toro’s Tom go line dancing (which happens more often than you’d think).

The problem with Reptile is that it lacks a sense of motivation. There’s the crime at the movie’s center, but all the information gathering that takes place during the first two acts feels like the script is going through the motions without actively working toward something. Maybe Singer knew that and it’s the explanation for more than a few bait-and-switch moments (including an out-of-the-blue doorbell that amounts to nothing and a ringing phone that doesn’t match up with the person calling). While these random long noises might exist solely to create a sense of drama or dread, Yair Elazar Glotman’s masterful score is actually responsible for pushing the film forward. He creates an underlying sense of ambiguity and unease that is the essence of the film.

A slash of light cuts across Tom's eyes in the car
Cr. Kyle Kaplan/Netflix © 2023

For a crime thriller, Reptile lacks the essential tension of intrigue. The film’s conclusion could easily be guessed fairly early on, which takes the wind out of the sails as Reptile approaches its climax. Even detective Tom’s mysterious past isn’t milked for anything of substance. In a sense, that’s bucking the stereotype of his character, but it also makes the film seem like it’s missing something. If it hadn’t been mentioned or alluded to, that would be a different story, but Reptile goes out of its way to remind the audience that Tom is a complex man. The audience waits for this to matter, but it never does. That can be said for a lot of the paths Reptile rambles down. The clues the cops come across in their investigation aren’t red herrings, they’re just placed in the script to stretch the film’s length.

Reptile won’t spark a revitalization of the crime thriller genre, and that’s a shame. There are enough ideas at play here to make something mysterious and fun, but instead, Reptile lets all the drama happen off screen with a third act deus ex machina. What could have been a knotty, suburban, coastal noir boils down to a detective story we’ve all seen before.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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