The true test of any thriller in which a dangerous animal provides the terror is how it works on a person who doesn't otherwise mind that creature. Credit, then, goes to FAIR GAME, a snake-on-the-loose tale which should elicit shudders even from non-herpetophobes.
Eva (Trudie Styler, better known to some as Mrs. Gordon Sumner), a young sculptress, has recently thrown her creepy husband Gene (Gregg Henry) out of their lavish loft-style apartment. Plotting revenge, Gene goes to see snake dealer Frank (Bill Mosley) out in the desert, where the latter
demonstrates the deadly efficiency of the mamba, which responds to its victim's fear. After convincing Frank to inject the snake with hormones to increase its aggressiveness, Gene turns it loose on its former keeper; within minutes, Frank is dead and Gene is headed back to Eva's place. He's
attached a tiny tracking device to the mamba, and when he confronts Eva at the loft, he manages to slip a similar sensor onto her as well before surreptitiously turning the snake loose. Eva angrily throws Gene out, and he locks her into the windowless building and cuts off her phone as well, then
begins to follow both Eva's and the snake's progress on a computerized monitor.
At first, the oblivious Eva takes a bath and wanders around the loft barefoot and in shorts, while the mamba (represented in many scenes by a prowling point-of-view camera) lurks just out of her sight. Eventually, she discovers the deadly reptile's presence, and after first vainly attempting to
escape, she begins to marshal her defenses. At first, fire and thrown objects deter the mamba, but then she begins to realize that she can't hold off the snake forever. Outside, meanwhile, Gene is getting frustrated; the hormone injection will kill the mamba within an hour of its release in the
loft, and Gene has lost Eva's signal, as she's inadvertently knocked off the tracking device she'd been wearing. Breaking back into the apartment, he finds Eva lying, apparently near death, next to the snake. He bashes the reptile to death, but then discovers it's really a clay model sculpted by
Eva; she's very much alive, and so is the mamba, which bites Gene before expiring for real.
Although the slender story of FAIR GAME does not have the complexity of the best thrillers, it benefits from the fact that director and co-screenwriter Mario Orfini doesn't draw the film out any longer than he needs to. What could have easily sufficed for a half-hour anthology piece manages to
stay tense for just over 80 minutes, with some pleasing character details and story gimmicks.
The ornate loft where Eva lives, lacking any windows but full of plants, corners and sculpture to hide the mamba, is a perfect setting, and the gimmick of the hormone injection that makes the snake even more dangerous but also limits its lifespan doubly augments the suspense. The opening squence
nicely establishes the creature's deadliness, and Gene becomes a fairly well delineated human villain as well. He's clearly a control freak (as opposed to his more free-spirited and artistic wife), a trait effectively presented through his keeping track of the action in the loft with the monitor.
(Eva is represented on the screen by an apple; fortunately, the biblical references don't get any heavier than that.) In addition, by keeping the characters down to three and using only one major location, Orfini was able to spend his money on some top Italian behind-the-scenes talent:
cinematographer Dante Spinotti, designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti, costume consultant Milena Canonero and composer Giorgio Moroder, who give this undoubtedly inexpensive production a high-budget sheen.
Styler, who must carry most of the film, does a good job of maintaining suspense for her character, even though she takes a little too long to clothe herself for protection after she realizes she has a poisonous visitor. Once she gets into combat mode, however, the film moves into fun territory ala OF UNKNOWN TERRITORY, the 1982 George Pan Cosmatos thriller, as she uses all manner of household items to combat the invader. FAIR GAME doesn't go as far as it could in evoking a primal fear of snakes, and it lacks any truly surprising developments, but it tells its simple suspense story with
entertaining confidence. (Violence, profanity, nudity.)
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