Serpent’s Lullaby, a 2014 short film that has been garnering buzz on the festival circuit and recently made its Canadian premiere in Toronto, is a deeply disturbing and undeniably fascinating take on the myth of Medusa in a modern setting. Its eerie motifs—arguably on par with those of American Horror Story—combined with a heartbreaking performance by Montreal’s own Jenimay Walker and superb directing by award-winning filmmaker Patricia Chica makes Serpent’s Lullaby an enchanting watch.
The film depicts a mysterious woman living reclusively in a mansion with her newborn baby, when tragedy strikes one night. The woman withdraws into a deep depression, with only her art collection and ‘pet’ snakes to keep her company. Slowly, the audience realizes that the newborn was not her first. In fact, when a necropolis of undersized skulls appears in her backyard, the viewer becomes less sympathetic and highly suspicious of the woman in apparent grief. The audience’s ensuing belief that the protagonist will prove to be the monster we suspect drives the story forward.
With short films, it’s critical how the filmmaker makes use of the limited time, and one weakness of Serpent’s Lullaby is that it moves slowly in certain scenes. Important plot points could have been made more efficiently and less emphasis been placed on setting the tone. However, one cannot help but admire Chica’s ability to captivate the audience and examine a broad range of emotions in less than 13 minutes. Credit also goes to Sean O’Bryan Smith’s excellent music selection and score, which truly inspires a sense of dread and unnerve. One of the greatest moments occurs when the viewer has grown accustomed to the rattling of a serpent in the background, when suddenly, the sound becomes the rattling of a baby’s toy instead—the mixture of surprise and horror is tremendously enjoyable.
An interesting parallel can be drawn between Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent and Walker’s Medusa—both are traditional villains, but perhaps with a more human and sympathetic story that is worth exploring. Like Maleficent, Medusa lives alone in a state of perpetual mourning, having lost what she values most. Both Maleficent and Medusa are victims of their own demons—although in this short film, the fate of Medusa is decidedly more tragic.
Chica discovered the screenplay by Charles Hall as she was submitting it for the second installment of the ABCs of Death anthology. Having watched the atrocious first anthology, Hall had good judgment in giving it to Chica instead. The short is well-shot, catching all the right angles for the most sinister effects and fully utilizing the excellent contrast between Walker’s Medusa and the cookie-cutter role of the soccer mom played by Annabella Hart.
Equally disturbing and compassionate with a beautifully haunting ending, Serpent’s Lullaby does not disappoint. The team behind the short film, led by Chica, has managed to create an unexpected and emotional story. Serpent’s Lullaby is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys the thrills and chills of the horror genre.