Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is a farmer in the Deep South whose wife (Adriane Lennox) has left him. He attempts one last reconciliation with her in a cafe, but the conversation quickly turns to arguing and she storms out leaving him alone. Out of spite, he runs over her rose garden with his tractor, and when his brother tries to appease him in a bar Lazarus nearly stabs him with a broken beer bottle. Meanwhile, Rae (Christina Ricci) is saying goodbye to her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) who has joined the National Guard, but her nymphomania will soon land her in trouble...
Is there such a thing as nymphomania? It's handy for dirty jokes or plot contrivances in porn films, but stick it in a serious film as Black Snake Moan is meant to be and you're on shaky ground. This was writer and director Craig Brewer's follow up to Hustle and Flow, and while that film concerned itself with rap, this was supposed to be summoning the spirit of the blues. Even before it was released it was notorious as the "Samuel L. Jackson chains Christina Ricci to a radiator" movie, but there was more to the drama than that, although how much more was debatable.
On the plus side, this is a film that certainly has the courage of its convictions and Brewer obviously didn't mind invoking exploitation flicks to sensationalise his story. Yet at heart it's a pious work of redemption, both of Lazarus' anger and Rae's misguided sexuality as they find common ground and solve their problems by helping each other. It's just that the way they go about doing so is very odd, as Rae is found left for dead by the roadside after being beaten unconscious (the cocktail of drugs and alcohol she has taken can't have done much good either).
It's Lazarus who has found her, and he takes the woman back to his farmhouse realising she is in need of medical assistance. Yet he doesn't call the doctor, as he sees in Rae a chance to save a soul, and asking around town about her he discovers she has an extremely bad reputation, bolstering his conviction to help her out. He does this by, yes, chaining her to a radiator but apparently this is alllowed because it's a very long chain and she can reach the kitchen and bathroom. What she cannot do is leave of her own free will.
Mercifully, Lazarus doesn't turn psychologist for lengthy scenes of Rae being grilled about exactly why she has ended up the way she has, but he does probe her mind like a strict counsellor and of course, cliché of clichés, it's all because of bad treatment by her mother (former child star Kim Richards making a comeback). About two thirds of the way through the chain comes off and the previously rebellious Rae reaches an understanding with her captor, but the saucer-eyed Ricci's earlier performance of screaming, rolling around and grimacing is less brave than demeaning, and her character's coming to terms with her situation doesn't eclipse that. You might think that Black Snake Moan sounds electrifying and outrageous stuff in synopsis, but in effect it's curiously uninvolving with its conservative and traditional values swallowing up most of the expected controversy. The blues isn't bad, even if Jackson's singing isn't too convincing. Music by Scott Bomar.