Are Snakes Necessary? is the novel debut of director and screenwriter Bran DePalma along with his producing partner Susan Lehman, released in the states by Hard Case Crime. DePalma has often been criticized as being a filmmaker high on style, but of little substance. In Are Snakes Necessary? he proves, when executed properly, style alone can engage your audience.
The plot moves through the lives of several interlocking characters. At the center of this perfect storm of sex, politics, and violence stands Nick Scully, reminiscent of heores in DePalma’s Blow Out and Body Double. A photographer of middling talent, riding on a lucky shot he got during the Ferguson riots. The two women he becomes involved with provide the tendrils for the plot that relies on a fir amount of happenstance and coincidence.
The first he falls for is Elizabeth DeCarlo who kicks the story off, involving herself with a
blackmail scheme that works for Barton Brock, a political hack, but backfires on her. Nick meets her a few years later on a Vegas flight where they end up falling in love. Unfortunately she is now married to a casino mogul who could destroy them both. The last time he sees Elizabeth is her going into one of her husband’s casino to snag a painting that will fund her escape. He never sees her come out and that last image burns in his mind.
To lick his wounds, he takes a job as a still photographer in Paris where his old girlfriend is starring in a remake of Vertigo. (It wouldn’t be a DePalma tale without a Hitchcock reference.) There he meets Fanny, a videographer who ran away from her lover, the senator Barton Brock works for. The aid drives much of the story with his conniving and committing his first murder. Elizabeth, now lying low as an advice columnist, also plays an integral part at the end.
The characters have the depth and nuance as something scripted without the actors fleshing them out.
If this sounds hard to follow, it isn’t. The authors keep the plot mechanics twisting and turning cleanly and clearly. The characters have the depth and nuance as something scripted without the actors fleshing them out. Fanny is described as being “in her full flush of carnality”. However nuance is not what a story like this hinges on and it may have bogged down it’s twenty-four-frames-a-second pace. Through bits of dialogue, action, and some cinematic descriptions, we are connected enough to who we need to be to care about.
That connection is all that is required as DePalma and Lehman put the Rube Goldberg plot into action. Much of the suspense comes from how each of these characters will affect the other, even when they are thousands of miles apart. The construction is reminiscent of many of the films DePalma scripted like Sisters, Dressed To Kill, and Blow Out, delivered with his quirky, perverse humor. One reviewer wrote that it should have been written as a parody to the potboiler. I’d argue it is, but not done in a brash tone and it is also in love with the kind of story they are telling.
It moves at a cinematic clip, bouncing from one character to another, through the romantic, violent, tragic story, that wraps up with some poetic justice.
Much like Samuel Fuller’s Brainquake that Hard Case also published, Are Snakes Necessary? is like one the filmmaker’s movies in book form. It moves at a cinematic clip, bouncing from one character to another, through the romantic, violent, tragic story, that wraps up with some poetic justice. If only DePalma could figure out how to do split screens on the page.
While our doors remained closed to the public through March 29th, you can grab your copy of Are Snakes Necessary? by ordering online or giving us a call at (512) 472 – 5050 to request curbside pick-up service.