How far would a mother go in order to save her child? That’s the question that is posed in Zak Hilditch’s latest film, RATTLESNAKE, which centers around Katrina Ridgeway (Carmen Ejogo), a single mother, who’s daughter is bitten by a rattlesnake. Stuck in the middle of the desert, Katrina finds a singular trailer where a woman helps heal her daughter while informing Katrina that she will pay another time. Unbeknownst to Katrina, she has just made an unthinkable deal with the devil that requires the sacrifice of a soul.
For the release of RATTLESNAKE, I had the opportunity to chat with writer/director Zak Hilditch. Having been a huge fan of his previous film, the Stephen King adaptation, 1922, I was excited to see what he had in store for fans this time around. During the interview, Zak took the time to discuss where the inspiration for the story came from as well as the themes surrounding morality.
To start things off, can you talk a little bit about how the story came to be?
Zak Hilditch: I had the initial concept, which is basically the set up you see in the film, which had stayed in my head for about two years and I never really knew what to do with it. I sort of kept it there and kept mulling it over. It wasn’t until our firstborn child was almost due that it just clicked one day. I realized that I better put this thing down quickly because when he arrives, my brain was going to be absolute mush and it was going to be nervewracking. The movie is very close to what you see as the finished product. That ticking clock, the immediacy of the story, the primal nature of what you’d do for your child, all of those things were ruminating inside of me with this situation and it came out of that. It was definitely influenced by things like Stephen King, The Twilight Zone, those things that I loved as a kid – they all sort of infused their way into RATTLESNAKE.
Carmen Ejogo is such a powerhouse of a performer and she was fantastic in this film. Can you elaborate on what it was like working with her?
Zak Hilditch: As you said, she’s absolutely a powerhouse. She hadn’t worked or done anything like this before. It was just a great opportunity for her to really show the world that she’s leading woman material because she’s doing everything in the movie and it was a fantastic time. It was a fucking easy collaboration, she was the easiest actor I’ve ever worked with. I think she’s fantastic and so committed to the film, especially since she’s a mother herself. [She] had really unique ideas on the character. We were both coming from the same place with this movie and sometimes these things are meant to be. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this role but her.
One of the things that I enjoyed so much about this movie was how the landscape of Texas was a character in and of itself. How was it finding the location and picking that area to further the film?
Zak Hilditch: When you set anything in Texas, you better believe you are shipping off to New Mexico to shoot that film. That’s exactly what we did. My early concept for this movie was an Australian idea of what Americana is. You know, big open roads, deserted highways, canyons, etc. So, that was always a part of the setting when I had the initial concept in my mind; it had to be somewhere remote. It shaded itself in, really, and sort of snowballed there. I took a look at the deserts, the textures, and towns. I really liked the town of Tulia and when I researched it, I saw it had a dark, checkered history. So we replicated bits and pieces of Tulia but, ultimately, made our own fictitious Tulia town come to life out in New Mexico. We were based in Santa Fe and we shot all around Santa Fe, about one or two hours out of town. We found some ridiculously amazing locations like the canyon at the end of the film. [It] had some weird interesting shapes and rocks and it had an ancient temple vibe. We didn’t know if we should shoot there (laughs). There were all these tiny snake-like canyons and that was the only place in New Mexico that we could pull [that ending] off, so we were lucky to shoot there.
Throughout the course of this one day, Katrina meets a slew of fascinating side characters: the truck driver, the hiker, etc. How did you come up with those characters and their backstories?
Zak Hilditch: When I was dealing with this curse, it ultimately meant that if it was a curse, it’s been ongoing. She’s not the first one, there are other victims, so I thought, “Oh wow, I wonder if it would be fascinating if they were ghosts that she’s hallucinating in her mind.” Originally, when I started writing, it was always going to be the woman from the trailer [that Katrina continues to see]. It seemed like I was writing the optimal thing but then I was like well, yeah, other people have died. [And] that was really fun to sort of keep the audience on their feet and wondering who is a specter and who isn’t.
Did you face a lot of challenges when it came time to bring this story to life?
Zak Hilditch: The film had its challenges but this one, funny enough, went by pretty quickly. From writing it to it being greenlit, it was all done in six months, it was crazy. I was on set shooting and now here we are unleashing it to the world. We only had 25 days [to shoot], and you never have enough money or enough time. It’s just the nature of the beast. But we had an amazing crew in New Mexico. The weather got pretty awful towards the end there, though, and the snake wasn’t easy either.
One of the biggest themes in the film is morality: dealing with what’s right and what’s wrong and what you would do for the ones you love. Is there anything in particular that you are hoping viewers will take away from the film when they see it?
Zak Hilditch: I just want them to be terrified and ultimately thinking about what they would do. The film goes out of its way to subvert what movies like this would generally do. Ultimately, you would have the thing where Katrina one-ups the entity because she figures out that if she does the other thing, she doesn’t have to appease it. I feel like I have no interest in those moments in movies, I’m more interested in what if you were locked into this thing and the only way out would be to appease it. It’s more of a “who would you choose” scenario to protect your child, rather than a would you because I feel like it’s a primal situation. She’s obviously going to do it, but can she? And also, who would she select? Which, to me, is a much more terrifying concept and a much more psychologically messed up terrain to play around in.
RATTLESNAKE is now streaming on Netflix and you can check out our review here.