Above Snakes is old west slang for still above ground, or still alive. And that’s the condition Coleman Dobbs (Brandon Baker, Zoombies 2) is in at the film’s start. It’s 1903 and he’s managed to survive seven years at hard labour for a crime he swears he didn’t commit. He has one thing on his mind, revenge on the man who destroyed his life, Sheriff Smith (Rickey Bird Jr., Cold Blooded Killers, Booze, Broads and Blackjack).
But when we first see him he’s at the graves of Elizabeth Margaret Brecman (Alysia Ingrim, The Crumbs, The Devil Has a Name) and her infant daughter, his alleged victims whom we see in black and white flashbacks that seem to tell a different story. But Sheriff Smith died while Coleman was in prison, denying him his revenge. His rage focuses on Judge Clarence Bassett (Jeffrey Smith, Don’t Look Up, The Gallows), the man who sentenced him.
While the plot is certainly standard Western fare, the way Above Snakes approaches it is anything but. It’s paced more like a drama than a shoot ’em up as Coleman reacquaints himself with the town. Even the flashbacks, which involve some severely evil deeds are devoid of the usual gunplay and brawling we expect from the genre. They feel more like a reenactment from a true-crime show.
Above Snakes never does become a typical horse opera either. Rather than shooting the judge, Coleman aims to go after his spoiled daughter Cathryn (Rebecah Rye, The Girl on the Mountain, Tales for the Campfire 3) and begins wooing her. But she’s not what she appears to be either. And as the game deepens, townsfolk begin to go missing. Can Coleman put the pieces together before he disappears as well?
What we get is actually more of a mystery in an old west setting than an actual western. And with its three leads consisting of an ex-con, a femme fatale and a corrupt judge, not to mention the black and white segments, Above Snakes borders on being film noir in a ten-gallon hat, something you don’t see very often.
And after the run of run-of-the-mill westerns like The Desperate Riders and Eye for Eye, it’s certainly good to see something different. The script concentrates on the characters, with the web of connections between them gradually being revealed as the plot unfolds. Above Snakes is slow and methodical about letting it unfold. A bit too slow at times and some of the plot’s more melodramatic elements threaten to take over before the final act brings some action as well as answers
Above Snakes is the first feature for both director Tyler Smith and his father Jeffrey Smith who wrote the script. You can see the rookie mistakes with the film’s pacing and occasionally overemphasizing irrelevant details. My other big complaint with the script was the bartender, Bottles (Mark MacPherson, Roadside Massacre, The Gallows Act II) who looked and sounded a bit too contemporary, much like the butterfly knife one of the characters carries.
While Above Snakes is a good film I can’t see how it managed to take home as many festival awards as it did, it’s not quite that good. Despite its issues, though it was an entertaining change of pace, but it could have been a much more entertaining one. It’s still worth a watch and I’ll be interested to see how their next film, another western called Among the Willows, turns out.
Above Snakes is available on VOD and Digital platforms as well as DVD from Deskpop Entertainment. You can check their website or the production company’s Facebook page for more information. And if you’re looking for more westerns, FilmTagger has some suggestions.