Netflix's Rattlesnake, is about a woman trying desperately to spare her daughter's soul - and she only has until the end of the day to make a terrible decision. Director Zak Hilditch is back at Netflix for another chiller, this time a contemporary tale, in contrast to his period piece 1922. Katrina, played by Carmen Ejogo, is caught in the middle of a deadly curse she has to pay forward in order to save her daughter.
When Katrina's daughter, Clara, is bitten by a rattlesnake, she goes to try find help. A mysterious woman in a nearby building offers respite, and somehow heals the girl completely of her wounds. Taking Clara to a hospital, Katrina is told she's in the clear, before being visited by an ominous man in a suit, who explains that Katrina now has to kill someone to make good on the life Clara has been given.
Haunted by ghosts of victims who have been caught in the same strange cycle, Katrina goes on the hunt, leading to a tense stand-off against an abusive boyfriend. Here's a breakdown of what happens between them, and Rattlesnake's strange mythology.
What Actually Happens in Rattlesnake's Ending
After kidnapping Billy (Theo Rossi) and making him drive her out to the Arizona desert, the two get in a scuffle and Billy manages to run away. While searching for him, Katrina finds the ghost of a hitch-hiker who had been killed within the same soul-for-a-soul cycle. Time running out, she starts to get desperate, and decides to kill herself as her own forfeit to save Clara. Right before she does, however, Billy reappears, and knocks her out.
She comes to with him holding a gun to her head. Instead of fighting him she starts to slit her throat, until a rattlesnake appears and scares him off the ledge. He falls and nearly dies, so Katrina climbs down and finishes the job by cutting his throat - just before the sun sets and her time runs out. Having gotten the pound of flesh she needed, she blows up the car the two drove there and leaves the scene with only ghosts as her witnesses.
All the spirits she'd seen in passing since the situation started, and more, watch from atop various ledges as she leaves to go and get Clara. As she and Clara are driving out of town, they spot Billy hitch-hiking, his soul now locked inside this strange prison.
How Does The Exchange Of Souls Work?
The entire narrative of Rattlesnake pivots on one principle: "a soul for a soul." Clara was going to die, but she was saved, and that means that someone has to die in her place. If someone isn't killed in her stead to reset the balance, then Clara's soul is forfeit and she dies anyway.
There are several ominous elements to this that Katrina encounters on her mission. For one, there is the rattlesnake itself, which seems to serve as a starting point and occasionally runs interference when there's a clear-cut good soul and bad soul in the balance. Then, there are the ghostly encounters that plague Katrina. Spirits lost in the exchange become stuck in the area, and only the current prospective victims can see them. Amid all of this is the strange grim reaper-like woman who looms in the shadows of news stories surrounding mysterious deaths, and whom Clara drew while she was in hospital. She's the ringleader of sorts: the one who starts and observes the cycle as it continues, on into oblivion.
Who Were All The Ghosts?
The ghosts in Rattlesnake remind Katrina of the ticking clock over her head, and act out their death over and over, like the boy smashing his head into her car window, or the priest burning, or the hitch-hiker's neck breaking. They're all folks who have died in the same strange circumstances that have caught Katrina and Clara.
It seems that when people die in this exchange, they don't go to the afterlife - at least, not entirely. They're stuck in the middle, working for and around the woman who healed Clara and her soul-gathering ways. At the end they gather to quietly watch as Katrina manages to walk away, and to welcome Billy into their fold as another wanderer of the barren landscape.
What Does The Rattlesnake Mean?
We see the titular snake twice: first when it bites Clara, and again when it causes Billy to fall, stopping Katrina from killing herself. Though there's no direct implication as to its purpose, the rattlesnake serves as a key piece of symbolism in the film.
Given that this all starts because Clara was bitten, it can be inferred the snake is there to find unsuspecting souls to feed the spiritual machine, bridging people from one world into a purgatory that could land them in the next. And then there's the ending, where a snake attacks Billy. Here, the animal acts as a decider when two souls hang in the balance. On one side is Katrina, the dutiful, sacrificing mother who'll give her life to save her child; and on the other is sexist, abusive Billy. The rattlesnake intervenes so Katrina may live and Billy will serve an eternity in limbo for his wretched behaviour.
Sometimes fate is against us, sometimes it's with us. All we can do is hope we're making the right moves, so it's on our side when we need it most.