“Alabama Snake” is a 2020 documentary film on HBO. It presents Appalachian folklore and religious beliefs through the lens of true crime (with a healthy dose of horror too). The story focuses on a Pentecostal minister convicted of attempted murder of his wife. The weapon of choice?
Snakes. Lots of ’em.
The first half was a bit strange. I kept expecting a true crime experience, but that is not “Alabama Snake”. The details of the case are glossed over quickly. Instead, this is a film about faith that tries to balance believing in those who believe while also taking a critical look at their beliefs from an outsider’s perspective.
I have never been to this part of Alabama (the film focuses on true events in the northeast of the state), but growing up, I had heard of snake handlers in relation to Christianity. There was often an air of disbelief, shame, or wonder when they came up. I, perhaps thankfully, never experienced their particular brand of religious service first hand.
“Alabama Snake” works because it presents the story according to its subjects. We get versions of the truth from both the accused (the aforementioned minister) and his wife. Unlike most true crime documentaries, however, both stories are equally weird. Albeit it seems likely that the minister was correctly convicted, tales of him being demon-possessed by his wife (in the literal sense) do little to aid the truth.
I would recommend watching it for the last 30 seconds alone (where our shared reality undercuts the reality the convicted minister has constructed for himself in comedic fashion).
Score: 1.50 from me and 1.25 from my wife.