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Snakes (2018) Review

A group of researchers funded by a pharmaceutical company head to a remote island in order to collect samples of a mythical plant. While that sounds like 2004’s Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid it’s also the plot of Snakes (大蛇) AKA Snake and, fittingly, Chinese Anaconda. Only this time the snakes look like they were imported from Skull Island.

Sometime during World War II, Japanese troops on a Pacific Island hear strange noises in the jungle around them. Investigating, they find an enormous and hungry snake. In the present, Lin (Huang Kai-Lun) was a noted researcher until his theories about the legendary plant known as the Blood Sucking Begonia got him laughed out of academia. To make matters worse, he’s just lost his job as an elementary school teacher for scaring his pupils with tales of giant prehistoric snakes.

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Almost too coincidently, the CEO (Yang Yong, Junkrat Train) of the medical company Saito tracks Lin down and offers him a job accompanying an expedition to Resurrection Island where they suspect the plants grow. He’s offering a small fortune in cash and treatment for his daughter’s medical condition. There’s just one potential problem, there are some unconfirmed wartime reports of large and unfriendly wildlife living on the island.

Director Zhenzhao Lin (The Enchanting Phantom, Junkrat Train) and co-writer Shengfan Zhang (Snakes 2) lets the audience know just what to expect early in the film. While making its way through the fog that surrounds the island, the expedition’s boat gets attacked by flying butterfish, which might as well be called flying piranhas. Rather than take cover below decks, the mercenaries assigned to the expedition start shooting the clouds of fish, standing there, guns blazing, as they get bitten to shreds.

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Mercs, including a badass female (Xi Meili) who think with their trigger finger, aren’t the only clichéd characters in Snakes. There’s the corporate boss willing to risk everyone else’s life for the mission, an obese geologist, CK, who is there for comic relief, the beautiful scientist Lan Rou (Zheng Yue) who falls for the widowed Lin, the hard-drinking boat captain, you get the idea.

The island’s jungle is full of danger, and not just from snakes, even the plants are lethal. There’s a prehistorical exploding fruit which is a sort of organic hand grenade and the flesh-eating blood vines which are connected to what looks like a smaller version of Audrey from Little Shoppe of Horrors.

Of course, in a movie called Snakes, it’s the giant serpent that the audience wants to see. And we do get to see a lot of this one, rendered in surprisingly good CGI for a Chinese film. I liked the design of it as well, with a head that made it look like it was related to dragons. Effects for the rest of the film are a mixed bag, the blood vines for example are fairly poorly done. But even they’re no worse than what you would see on SyFy.

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Which is appropriate because the best way to describe Snakes is a SyFy movie done right. It’s nicely paced, with something popping up every few minutes to keep things from getting dull. And while logic and scientific accuracy aren’t the script’s strong points, the film never gets insultingly stupid either. Apart from its attempts at humour, that is, they were cringe-inducing in all the wrong ways.

Unlike many Chinese monster movies, Snakes is fairly easy to watch. Youku has put it up for free on their YouTube channel. There are several others on there as well, though not all of them have English subtitles. It’s worth checking out if you like Asian films.

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