⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Dr. Henry Vulgis has been testing his anti snakebite formula on himself and it’s getting harder to hide from his coworkers, especially his nine inch tongue and scaly feet.

Thomas Hardly plays the impulsive scientist who can’t keep his fingers out of the cookie jar, eventually becoming a guinea pig junkie strung out on antivenom while he hides from the police who suspect him for several homicides. Three female medical students were found crushed to death, either by an obese assailant or a giant snake.

In his madness Vulgis kidnaps a plus-sized coworker whom he plans to frame with the help of his med students’ dna which is grossly but conveniently picked out from between his teeth. However, in as close to a moment of clarity the mutating doctor’s fractured mind is capable of, he decides to keep the man for a test subject to prevent any more surprises. He is convinced the same science that caused his problem can also solve it while the tantalizing glimpses he sees of another world both attract and repel him, leaving his id and ego at war.

When the unfortunate portly man is killed by a bad batch Vulgis finds himself with little recourse but to either surrender to the authorities or stop fighting the inevitable transformation. Guess which way he decides to go.

With admirable glee director and former minor league ballplayer Owen Tew (Catch 22) conducts the bloody, gooey, glistening mayhem, clearly unafraid to explore all the body transformation horror inherent in the story. Unlike Kafka, though, there is little to no humor here.

Everything is surprisingly bleak and accordingly dark. Even the soundtrack is scratchy and sinewy. Like the color pallet, the lighting is muted for most of the film; that is, until Vulgis fully realizes his snakebeast form and we both see and feel his rebirth. An interesting visual choice for Vulgis’ mutating point of view is a vibrant but skewed color scheme with high contrast, perhaps a nod to a filmic tale of a certain Kansas girl and her dog.

The first third of Venom is an intriguing if slightly rote character study of a scientist both by profession and by faith whose world is shattered when in his thirst for knowledge (and thankfully not for glory; the script stays away from any “scales of justice” contrivance) he becomes something his unacknowledged spiritual tenets can’t reconcile with. A subconscious belief that, since the existence of any God is unknown, so must be an existence of any heaven in all its glory or a hell replete with all its demons.

This philosophy has served the scientist well until one particular hell begins to unearth itself. Understandably, the not so good anymore doctor now appreciates this novel perspective, one where he can do whatever he wants and cannot be stopped. Where nothing is off limits or out of reach. But only as a horrifying human snake hybrid monster. There’s always got to be a catch in there somewhere.

A sort of masochistic twist on the apple and the serpent, Vulgis both opens his own door to paradise and administers his own punishment with snakebites and murder on his journey to self actualization. His skin littered with oozing sores and scar tissue, kudos must be given to the fx team for some of the ugliest makeup this side of nightmares. The grotesque laboratory experiments and the already infamous parking lot scene are indeed chilling while most of the action beats are handled well with surprisingly discrete use of cgi. Discrete as in basically just enough to bring the slimy story to life without wallowing in too much excess.

Speaking of excess, Tew goes for broke in the finale, sending his film off the rails as we surrender along with Dr. Vulgis to the beckoning just-out-of-reach. Every door opened leads to another closed one, assuring us an upward path to enlightenment as we descend into the primordial, but this mayhem is also the weakest part of the film. Instead of fully exploring the doctor’s latent spirituality as it wrestles with realms outside of his scientific comfort zone, and possibly experiencing a metaphysical transformation to match the physical, it’s as if Tew (or the studio) felt he owed the action movie and video game crowd some kind of sfx payoff. The half baked metaphor keeps the horror elements at bay until the climax which is admittedly fun to watch but disappointing to experience, leaving us with neither a compelling drama or visceral thriller but merely a decent way to spend two hours if you can afford it.

Otherwise sit down and read a book. Even if you nod off there’s a good chance you’ll be satisfied after.