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June 18, 2021

The Serpent


Gia Skova - 2021
Vertical Entertainment

The Serpent is not the kind of film I usually watch, much less write about. What caught my attention is that the film was written and directed by Gia Skova, who is also the film's star. There may be other women I am overlooking, but Skova joins the small company that includes Barbra Streisand (Yentl) and Chantal Akerman (Je Tu Il Elle. As for action filmmakers, Sylvester Stallone comes to mind for taking all three credits of writing, directing and starring in the same film. What also is striking is that Skova's professional trajectory has been as a model and actress prior to this first effort at writing and directing. Compared to some of the action films that go straight to VOD that star, for example, Scott Adkins, The Serpent is not very good. But the fact that it essential the work of one woman brings up questions regarding genre and gender.

The plot involves rogue C.I.A. agents and children who have become "bio-bombs". As best I could follow, a small group of children had microchips implanted in their brains that are connected to nuclear devices that will eliminate a large portion of the population. Skova stars as Lucinda Kavsky, a C.I.A. agent who is out to rescue the children and uncover the bad guys. Skova shoots two machine guns at once, knocks out guys with high kicks, drives and shoots at the same time, and generally performs the checklist of improbable derring do found in a dozen contemporary action films. Looking for anything that makes a lick of sense is futile.

It certainly does not help that scenes that are suppose to take place in New York City were clearly filmed in downtown Los Angeles. L.A.'s Broadway is never going to be confused for Manhattan's Park Avenue, and that shot of the marquee for the Los Angeles Theater should have been avoided. Likewise, the foothills near Los Angeles are visible in a chase scene. There are some bits of business and narrative gaps that are puzzling. The ending is abrupt, suggesting that money for the production ran out. As for dialogue, I have doubts about the head of the C.I.A. berating a failed agent as a loser and idiot within earshot of others. Whatever failures there are in writing, directing and logic, The Serpent can not be called boring.

There is an audience for a film like The Serpent, but that audience does not necessarily include me. Which is not to say that this film should be totally disregarded. Taking the longer view, even the programmers and B movies of the past take on lives of their own, the subjects of interest decades after their initial release. It is quite possible that The Serpent could be viewed with interest just as today there are books on Monogram Pictures and the output of other "Poverty Row" studios. As a filmmaker, Skova's debut comes at a time when Hollywood studios have finally decided that women are capable of making action films. It is too soon to know if The Serpent will be Skova's only shot behind the camera or if she can successfully segue into a career along the lines of directors like Jesse V. Johnson and John Hyams. At a time when exploitation filmmaker Doris Wishman gets an academic study, one learns that the trash films of yesterday and today can have the potential of being tomorrow's treasure.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 18, 2021 06:52 AM