On the surface, Black Snake Moan looks like another riff on the exploitation film genre. You've probably seen the posters or trailers that feature Christina Ricci in chains while Samuel L. Jackson looks stern. However, I saw an entirely different style of trailer before Daddy's Little Girls -- one that downplayed the white-chick-in-chains aspect and instead excerpted more low-key scenes with Jackson's character and his wife, his minister, and so on. And writer-director Craig Brewer says that Black Snake Moan is his "blues" movie in the same way that Hustle & Flow was his "hip-hop" movie. Black Snake Moan is a hybrid of genres, mixing blues music with exploitation-film visuals. The genres combine to tell a story about people struggling to define their place in the world, whether it's through sex or music or the way they relate with a community. The combination should be jarring, but for the most part Brewer manages to pull it off, with the music helping to tie everything together (or chain it all together).
The movie opens on an older couple, Lazarus (Jackson) and his wife, as she quietly but firmly tells him their longtime marriage is over. He rages and eventually alienates himself from his friends and community, finding only partial respite in playing his guitar at home, alone. This in itself might make a pleasant low-concept relationship movie set in the rural South. But the story is entwined with that of Rae (Ricci), whose fiance Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) is leaving town for a military career, and she's scared of what she might do when left alone. Sure enough, Ronnie's barely left town when Rae jumps in bed with the local drug dealer. She hits the town but runs into trouble and is left half-dead on the side of the road ... right in front of Lazarus's house. Suddenly Lazarus is left to deal with a feverish, battered but still sparky young nymphomaniac. That's where those chains come in.