There is a myth in India about a beautiful female snake with the secret to immortality. Nagin possesses a stone called the Nagmani that keeps her young forever. The only way to even encounter the true power of Nagin is to steal her lover and bring about her wrath. Only if she cannot free her love herself do you even stand a chance of surviving the confrontation, let alone obtaining the Nagmani for your own use. This is the basis of writer/director Jennifer Chambers Lynch's ambitious and troubled erotic suspense story Hisss. The director worked in India with a mostly Indian cast and crew to bring what she viewed as an ancient romance story to life. What she wound up with was a company that wanted a horror story so badly that Lynch couldn't even edit her absurd feminist vision to tell the story she wanted to.
Somewhere in Hisss is a really cool story. The myth of the Nagin and the integration of the human players is captivating. A rich American man with terminal brain cancer will stop at nothing to draw out and capture the Nagin for immortality. At the same time, an uptight police detective is trying to enforce the laws during a massive outdoor festival filled with drugs and depravity. His mother in law is in the late throws of Alzheimer's and is so desperate for a grandchild that she prays to the Nagin every night for help. And somehow, somewhere, the Nagin becomes the hero that every woman in India needs while on the quest for her stolen lover.
In other words, Lynch set out to create an almost-superhero movie about the power of women, love, and desire and somehow got trapped into a SyFy-level nightmare of bad editing and poor special effects.
This really is a shame. The moments that work in the film really fall in line with Lynch's vision. Everything you're told about the Nagin--explained as a vengeful and violent shape-shifting deity--by men is recontextualized again and again. The vision firmly starts in horror and destruction and arches into a pure tale of romance, justice, and tragedy.
The technical elements of the film are mostly spot on. The practical makeup and visual design of the film is beautiful. The festival, filled with paint pigments and water, is gorgeous. The cast mostly does a great job with very strange material. Mallika Sherawat is captivating as the human from of Nagin. Even the digital design of the snake to human transformation is fine; it just falls apart when the actors don't know how to handle a scene with a not-present monster that large.
Hisss has enough going for it that a monster movie fan or someone big on mythology and Greek-styled tragedy would find some worth in it. It is by no means a great film. It just has enough potential in its current form to grab your interest.
Thoughts on Hisss? I knew I had to see it before Despite the Gods was available. That's the documentary about Jennifer Chambers Lynch losing control of Hiss. Have you seen the snake woman movie yet? Sound off below.