“How do you make a film where the feeling you’re trying to evoke is ‘not knowing’?” questions writer-director Grant Singer. “Mysteries that are most resonant and lasting are the most hidden. Reptile began with a desire to capture a feeling of being deceived. I wanted to instill that deception both in the story’s construction, where characters are introduced as one thing and revealed to be something else, and in the experiences of the characters themselves. There is a sense of unease, where the suspense comes from not knowing where the story is leading you.”
Directed by prolific music video director Grant Singer, who makes his feature film debut with the neo-noir thriller Reptile, releasing on Netflix in October, he directed the film from a screenplay he crafted with Benjamin Brewer and Benicio Del Toro, from a story by Singer and Brewer.
The choice to go with Netflix, Singer said, was also about “keeping the ball rolling” in pre-production and having the breathing room to get his debut exactly where he wanted it. “My biggest thing was having time for pre-production, working with the actors, and, like I told you earlier, I wanted to deliver,” he added. “I had a very strong desire to make something really good and to do that, it was gonna require, like, 120% of my concentration and effort and determination to do it.”
Reptile evokes the darkness of a David Fincher film as it kicks off with the brutal murder of a young real estate agent. Detective Nichols (Benicio Del Toro) investigates the crime only for the world around him to unravel as he gets closer to the truth. Nothing is as it seems in the case and every clue only dismantles another illusion surrounding his own life.
Director’s Statement From Grant Singer
Seven days before my sixth birthday my uncle was murdered. It was then when I became distinctly
aware that anything can happen at any moment. I believe that my fascination in stories where truth is
elusive and facts remain unanswered stems from that tragedy in my family.
In America we are fascinated with violent crime. We often prefer clean narratives, yet in reality there is
more ambiguity than we are comfortable admitting. The people that are tasked with solving these
crimes are regular people with the same flaws, desires, and weaknesses as everyone else. Reptile
questions our inherent trust in authority and examines the human capacity for evil. After all, good
people can do bad things.
A Conversation With Director Grant Singer
You’re an established and acclaimed director of music videos, but as a first-time feature filmmaker,
what was the learning curve like?
My dream has always been to make films. It was just the right time to make that jump. In music videos,
you’re working for an artist. You’re helping shape their image, and a video is very much an
advertisement for them and your job is to execute that vision, almost like a private chef would. Whereas
with this project, it was my own restaurant, if you will, and I was able to make something that best
articulates my vision.
How did the idea for Reptile come about?
I wanted to make a movie that evoked the feeling of being deceived. I was trying to capture a very
particular feeling. The way I approach film, and even directing, is through feeling and emotion. There
were a few things I wanted the film to do. One, I knew that structurally I wanted to create a prologue
where you experience the story with one character and then essentially pass the baton and change
protagonists shortly thereafter. I also wanted to create a multifaceted sense of deception, in the way the
story’s told and in the experiences of the characters. And I wanted to play with this idea of the hunter as
the hunted. It’s something you see done so beautifully in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation
What inspired the plot?
In America, we have a fascination with violence and true crime. I wanted to tell a story that explored the
capacity for evil. I wanted to make a film that explored the unknowable aspects of crime, and one that
questions our inherent trust in authority. What makes certain stories resonant oftentimes is how much
we don’t know, how much is left to our imagination. How do you make a film that is satisfying while still
leaving things for interpretation? That was the inspiration that set off the events laid out in the movie.
What were some other films that inspired your vision for Reptile?
I watch the same movies over and over and over. At one point during pre-production, Benicio started
calling me “Vertigo” because I was going on and on about Hitchcock’s Vertigo. That’s definitely a film
that has influenced me. The Night of the Hunter is another one. Zodiac is one of my favorite films, one
that I hold in the highest regard. Oftentimes, you’re inspired by certain facets of a film, or there are
certain extraordinary things that you just revere. Cache for its cerebral sense of fear and its portrayal of
violence. Spoorloos for its incredible and transgressive structure. In the Bedroom for everything. I’m
always watching Sidney Lumet’s films and blown away by his craft and the performances he gets, how
wild and full of life and honest they are.
When do you know you wanted to name the movie Reptile?
From the very beginning, before the first draft was done. This idea of “reptile” seemed to fit. There’s a
shedding of skin that occurs where the characters are introduced as one thing and revealed to be
something else. It felt like a cool, bold title for the movie. I’ve always liked one-word, simple titles, like
Heat. When I think of the word “reptile,” it doesn’t make me think of any other film. I just knew it: “That’s
the movie. It’s called Reptile. That’s it.”
The Actors Comment On The Screenplay & Characters
Benicio Del Toro
Del Toro collaborated on the screenplay with Grant Singer and Benjamin Brewer, from a story by Singer and Brewer.
“I liked the unpredictability. There were a couple of what I like to call “oh, shit” moments that also
compelled me to get involved. And how the story reflects Nichols’s interior world. The collaboration with Grant was a lot of fun. Once we knew where we needed the story to land, then the question becomes how do we get there? How do we make it interesting? We did research and tried to make it as real as possible. We talked about movies and storytelling with certain films as references. One that comes to mind is In Cold Blood. It’s good to be with someone like Grant who knows film.
“I was intrigued by the idea that there are so many layers to the characters. It was really crafted in a way
that kept me turning the page. It’s rare that you read something that can feel so suspenseful and
uncomfortable in a good way. At the same time I wanted to get to the end as quickly as possible – just
like a good book or suspenseful novel. When I first read it, I did not read it with a character in mind for
myself. I think Grant had Will in mind for me, but I didn’t. I knew Benicio was playing Nichols, and he is
one of my favorite actors and we’ve been friends for awhile. My favorite actors can say so much without
moving a muscle, and he’s made a legendary career out of that.”
“I found it exhilarating to play a character whose world is turned upside down by such a tragedy. He has
to react to becoming a suspect and having his integrity questioned while his life is falling apart in real
time. There’s so much that’s out of control for Will, and I liked the idea of playing a character that has to
constantly react to the unpredictability of what’s thrown his direction. Will’s in complete shock for at
least half the film, and when people are in fight or flight they do or say things that aren’t necessarily who
they are. Those are enthralling moments to be in as an actor.”
“Grant came up with a great story that really grabbed me. I thought it was a very compelling mystery and
I was completely drawn in. And I could also feel Benicio’s influence – he and I worked together 26 years
ago on Excess Baggage, and we were in the trenches together – and I could hear his voice in the script
as well, which I loved.”
“I can’t explain how interesting it is to have something come so full circle in your life- it was a thrill to hear
from him about this project. Benicio is really collaborative with me, he really wants to hear my ideas, and
I like that we both seem very comfortable with helping each other. There’s a deep mutual respect and
appreciation, so that makes it work well. I was honored that they asked me to do it, and that he wanted
to work with me again.”