'Reptile' Is a Parody of a Noir Thriller

Directed by Grant Singer

Starring Benicio del Toro, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Pitt, Eric Bogosian, Karl Glusman, Domenick Lombardozzi, Sky Ferreira

Photo: Kyle Kaplan / Netflix

BY Alex HudsonPublished Sep 22, 2023

What the hell does this movie have to do with reptiles? There aren't any lizards in the movie (nor any mention of them that I recall), and there's no clear metaphorical significance that might link Reptile back to its titular animal. It's a seemingly meaningless yet vaguely creepy title — which says a lot about this over-stylized noir thriller, which comes off like a parody of the genre.

Reptile is a murder mystery that's deeply indebted to Gone Girl, True Detective and The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, with a dim grey filter on the lens and a comically ominous score playing throughout every moment of the convoluted, way-too-long whodunit. It's billed as the feature debut of music video director Grant Singer, although he also helmed a similarly by-the-numbers Shawn Mendes documentary a few years ago.

I won't bother describing the plot in too much detail, but it concerns a gruff detective (Benicio del Toro) investigating the death of a real estate agent, Summer (Matilda Lutz), whose body is discovered by her boyfriend, fellow realtor Sam (Justin Timberlake).

Characters exist for no reason other than to be suspicious: there's the ex-husband who collects human hair for creepy art projects, the guy with a grudge who listens to police scanners as a hobby, and the spooky church caretaker with buckets full of blood-red paint. Even the main character, del Toro's Detective Tom Nichols, has a big gash on his hand that's conspicuously drawn attention to but never pays off.

It's relentlessly dour, and the occasional joke (like a recurring gag about a motion activated sink that's initially funny but then gets beaten into the ground) only reinforces the impression that Reptile is a satire of a self-serious crime thriller. By the climactic scene, people at my screening were openly laughing at things that clearly weren't supposed to be funny — which is a better response than how I felt, which was simply bored.

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