Lee and Lija are a middle-aged couple living an ordinary life in an unspecified small town. But when their only son Jesse dies, their world is completely turned upside down, and the pair cope with their grief in different, separate ways.
But during one epic stormy night, their son’s pet snake escapes from its glass tank and hides somewhere in the house. Lee and Lija now must come together to find the snake, upending their home to find the creature — and finally confronting their devastating loss.
Writer-director Strack Azar, along with co-writer Michael Stevantoni, explores two parents’ cataclysmic loss and grief in this striking and powerful short drama.
Instead of a muted, dusty naturalism, the film opts for a richer, deeper tone to its storytelling, operating instead somewhere between a certain dark poetry and understated allegory. Graced with a simple yet expressive voiceover, the script, performances and dialogue are all understated and pared down, and though the subject matter is undeniably sad, the emotions themselves lurk below the surface, both by the design of the film’s craft and by the temperaments of the characters.
It’s fitting, as well, that the film’s cinematic language takes on an almost metaphorical power, with deep, saturated colors, an elegant and elegiac use of shadows and an eye for the uncanny and even spooky. Its camerawork is especially compelling, and its movements evoke the feel and power of winds moving across plains, sweeping up everything in its path — fitting for a film whose inciting incident is brought on by a storm smashing a glass tank.
This event lets loose Jesse’s snake and spurs his grieving parents into action to find the escaped creature, which is also the last living link to their son. Watching Jesse’s mother and father upend their home searching for the snake is both gently comical, deeply human and yet powerfully symbolic, as both parents break out of their stagnant, isolated bubbles of grief and finally come together in their loss.
“A Snake Gone Through the House” has the wonderful feel of a lost Flannery O’Connor story, with its rich mix of Southern grit and almost fairytale-like approach to its difficult emotional terrain. Treating death and grief like a force of nature that upends lives and destabilizes any sense of equilibrium, it’s not uncommon for marriages to fray and become distanced when grieving a child, and sometimes a strained partnership is a sad casualty of this. But as the final, resonant images of the film show, the only real consolation in this situation can be found in the one other person who understands fully the depth and catastrophe of that unimaginable loss and can share in that mourning.