REPTILE. Inconspicuous Thriller in Fincheresque Style [REVIEW]
Drawing heavily from genre classics does not necessarily have to be discrediting for a filmmaker. The skillful use of techniques popularized by renowned directors doesn’t have to be purely imitative, as confirmed in the film debut of Grant Singer, a recognized music video director who has collaborated with artists like The Weeknd and Sam Smith. However, Reptile is far from being a typical music video—it is a Fincheresque crime thriller that perfectly embodies the term “slow burn.”
So, what does this concept mean exactly? In simple terms, it denotes the feeling of escalating tension and anger inevitably leading to a final explosion.The plot of Singer’s debut unfolds gradually. The criminal intrigue seems to progress slowly, perhaps too slowly at times, but this seemingly minimal progress allows immersion in a story that offers much more than initially meets the eye. Reptile narrates the story of detective Tom Nichols (fantastically portrayed by Benicio Del Toro), assigned to investigate the murder of a young woman connected to Willem Grady (Justin Timberlake in his first ambiguous role), a representative of a real estate tycoon family. The case appears straightforward—the ex-husband of the victim, with whom she still maintained intimate ties, is accused. However, Detective Nichols’s instinct prevents him from accepting the most obvious hypothesis. He plunges into the investigation, collecting pieces of the puzzle that will irreversibly change his life.
Set in the state of Maine, the story unfolds at a leisurely, provincial pace—interrogation scenes and crime scene visits are interspersed with glimpses of local police officers’ and their families’ informal gatherings. Tom Nichols has a strong rapport with his superiors and colleagues, earning their respect and trust. However, the investigation into the murder of a young real estate broker challenges his established position as an experienced detective, causing him to doubt his investigative instincts. Tom’s wife, Judy, skillfully portrayed by Alicia Silverstone, plays a significant role in the story. She not only provides support and understanding but actively assists him in the investigation, offering insightful remarks that propel the inquiry forward and even testing some hypotheses. The on-screen partnership of Del Toro and Silverstone, appearing together for the first time since Excess Baggage (1997), is a strong aspect of Singer’s film.
Reptile exudes inspiration from the detective works of David Fincher and Denis Villeneuve, as well as classic police cinema reminiscent of Sidney Lumet’s Serpico. Singer, who co-wrote the screenplay with Benicio Del Toro and Benjamin Brewer, creates a gloomy yet dynamic and highly rhythmic world. Individual scenes are not prolonged, and frequent changes of shots prevent monotony. Although the provincial investigation lacks frequent plot twists and spectacular sequences, there is plenty of detective substance—numerous clues, several suspects, ambiguous testimonies, and surprising results of laboratory tests. “Gad” doesn’t tell a story of a serial killer or a scandalous crime in a bustling metropolis, yet it captivates the audience for a full 130 minutes. This is primarily due to the incredible atmosphere crafted by Singer—ubiquitous unease, the stunning music by Yair Elazar Glotman, subtle details in the set design, and the characters’ behaviors (such as Tom’s interior design inspirations drawn from crime scenes). All these elements make Reptile a refined spectacle that penetrates deep under the skin and lingers with the audience long after the screening.
Considering that David Fincher increasingly explores genres other than crime, and Denis Villeneuve was absorbed by science fiction a few years ago, it’s gratifying that a new noteworthy work has emerged in the category of dark detective thrillers. It’s challenging to predict the trajectory of Grant Singer’s career, but with his debut, he has signaled that he can effectively leverage cinematic inspirations to create something both interesting and distinctive. Reptile stands out as one of the better thrillers of the year and one of the most Fincheresque films not directed by David Fincher.