Reptile (2023) Movie Review: A crime-thriller for the sake of cheap thrills

With a heavy-hitting roster and a streaming giant like Netflix, it will be interesting to see how Reptile performs on an OTT platform.
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Grant Singer’s feature film directorial debut, Reptile, hit select theaters a week ago and is now going to be streaming on Netflix on September 29, 2023. The filming was done in Atlanta, Georgia, but the events take place in Scarborough, Canada. It is Singer’s greatest undertaking of his life as revealed by the director himself during an interview.

With a heavy-hitting roster and a streaming giant like Netflix, it will be interesting to see how Reptile performs on an OTT platform. The movie had a 45% score on Rotten Tomatoes after it hit theatres. There are several reasons for the mediocre reception of the film, which we will discuss in this review.

Reptile Movie (2023) Cast

  • Justin Timberlake as Will Grady
  • Matilda Lutz as Summer Elswick
  • Benicio del Toro as Detective Tom Nichols
  • Alicia Silverstone as Judy Nichols
  • Michael Pitt as Eli Phillips
  • Karl Glusman as Sam Gifford
  • Ato Essandoh as Detective Dan Cleary

Reptile Movie (2023) Summary

Reptile introduces Will Grady and Summer Elswick, a couple who are living together, and the tension between them. Summer doesn’t reciprocate his intimacy or attend a seminar that “meant a lot to him.” A few minutes into the crime/thriller, the crux of the movie becomes Summer’s brutal murder – 34 knife wounds all over the body with a knife jammed into the cervix.

We are then introduced to Detective Tom Nichols after he hosts a party that includes members of the Scarborough Police Department. Captain Robert Allen (Eric Bogosian) is the department boss who also happens to be Judy Nichols’ uncle. The solemn Marty Graeber (Mike Pniewski) is the Chief of the department. Wally (Domenick Lombardozzi) is the merry and fun-loving senior officer of Tom, who calls the latter ‘Oklahoma’ out of respect.

Will Grady tries to fix his life after the tragedy but is continuously interrupted and threatened by a man named Eli Philips. While the junkie becomes the prime suspect, viewers also get to know about the scarred relationship of Grady and Elswick due to the latter’s ex-husband. Tom also finds out that Summer closed multiple property deals but didn’t get a penny.

Nothing is as it seems in the story. While investigating the murder case, Tom gets dragged into the grim world of drugs and property dealings. He cannot trust anyone except for his wife. The narrative of Reptile is usually driven from the perspective of the detective while viewers get to know about his history, demeanor, and the rot that affects his department.

Reptile Movie (2023) Review: The movie seems to be a parody of itself

Tom Nichols unearths several clues step-by-step with the help of his sidekick Dan Cleary. There are some good portrayals of detective skills such as Tom using two images of Summer’s hand to find a bite mark, and pointing out a missing cap on the Chrysler Impaler that went into Summer’s house on the day of the murder.

There are minor nuances throughout the film that help the audience buy into Tom’s journey, but they go too far and in the wrong direction. For instance, Calcimine becomes the main clue halfway through the film as it is found on the victim’s body. The blame falls on Sam Gifford as he had the paint on his arm. However, it turns out to be a red herring, only suggesting that Sam and Summer slept together and were seeing each other in Limerick.

Tom almost finds no substantial clue leading to the killer by himself. The bite mark rules out Sam Gifford. Later, Eli Philips gives him a drive containing the illegal activities of the real estate agency that Summer Elswick worked in. Phone and call tracking is done by his subordinate. Fortunately, Tommy finds out the Chrysler Impaler but in a movie that comprises a few characters, viewers never relate to the struggles of the detective.

An experienced cast of actors cannot save a crime/thriller that lacks any sort of tension. There’s minimum drama in both spheres of Tom’s life: family and police. He keeps chasing and contacting several people to get to the answer to Summer’s mystery, and it comprises almost 70 minutes of the film. The climax picks up the slow-paced plot and spins it into a tense shootout that ends in a few minutes. 

Reptile is not a detective murder mystery because even before the dust settles, all the fingers point to a certain man. Will Grady is back to his merry ways after just a week from his lover’s death. Meanwhile, the Scarborough police never take the case seriously. Eli Philips keeps threatening Will Grady after the latter bought his father’s farm via treachery. Those who have read murder mysteries know that the most suspicious aren’t the actual villains. Figure out the culprits within this bunch. 

Reptile is also not a cop drama as the main character has plot immunity. The only thing remotely scary about his whole life was his dreams. Even during the ending, when all his beliefs in the system come crashing down, he kills the villain with a single bullet without much chaos. No fitting ending is given to the mastermind of the whole operation and Summer Elswick’s murderer.

Coincidences and obvious plot twists pile up on each other in Reptile. Due to the obvious lack of intensity, the whole story feels obnoxious. The saving grace of the film is Benicio del Toro’s gritty portrayal of Detective Tom Nichols and he manages to salvage something out of the script. He is joined by Alicia Silverstone, who is a fun and sassy character.