Friday, March 8, 2013

The Cinema File #132: "Spiders" Review

Why aren’t there more giant spider movies?

One of the first movies I ever reviewed for this blog was a Syfy Channel Original called Arachnoquake, which I still count as one of the worst movies I’ve seen since I started publishing text reviews last year. When most people think of spiders in the context of horror movies, they probably go straight to Arachnophobia, but that one always disappointed me because the spiders weren’t big, just super poisonous. The only modern giant spider movie I can think of is Eight Legged Freaks, which I could never bring myself to watch due to my intense distaste for actor David Arquette. This seems like a specific area of science fiction/horror that is rife with largely untapped potential, and while it almost certainly won’t win any awards, the simple pleasures of giant killer arachnid action done right made today’s film, simply titled Spiders, a treat.

Spiders begins in space, where a Russian space station has become overrun by its experiment to splice alien DNA with earthbound arachnids (for some reason I don’t care about). When the station crashes back to Earth, the spiders infest the subway system of a major city and begin to grow exponentially larger by the hour until they reach the size of wolves, all while caring for their queen, due to grow even larger. This movie is as loving a tribute to sci fi B movies as you’re gonna find at the moment, right down to the hokey Russian mad scientist whose obsession with the creatures borders on romantic love. It’s got everything you would want from a giant spider movie, no more, no less, and if you need any more convincing than the synopsis, then it’s probably not for you in the first place.

Once the action starts, much of Spiders feels like a survival horror videogame from the 90’s brought to film. Considering the amount of terrible movies based on survivor horror games, it sounds weird that I’m saying this as a compliment, but even though this isn’t based on an actual game, it evokes the feeling of that genre better than any actual videogame adaptation ever has, and in a way that really works with the premise. For the most part we follow one character on a singular mission with very little dialogue of any real importance, traveling from one action set piece to another, all of which are done well and deliver on what you would hope for in terms of suspense and adventure. It isn’t Shakespeare, but it never promises to be, and the tension effectively builds to a satisfying climax and then the movie ends without any bullshit pretense that we cared about the characters independent of their spider fighting plight.

The special effects are not great and what you would expect from a low budget movie, but they’re good enough to get the point across, and enough of the action takes place at night so as to conceal any major CGI deficiencies. It’s hard to complain about the look of the spiders in light of the pink atrocities in Arachnoquake and just how much more effectively they were used here. Spider attacks in the toy store and the sewer system below, while not classic in the grand scheme of things, blow every SyFy Channel movie out of the water, and the final battle with the giant queen is good enough to be in a major theatrical feature, even if it is resolved in a way that I’m pretty sure is technologically infeasible, involving a subway train made to move forward without a conductor, which I always thought was impossible due to dead man switches and various safeguards.

When I go into a movie like Spiders, I’m not asking for much, and yet paradoxically, I almost always expect to be disappointed, just based on my experience with low budget films all too often failing to meet even my low standards. Luckily, this is one giant spider movie that is exactly what is says on the tin. Naturally, this sub-genre is a bit esoteric even as niches go, so I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but if anything I’ve talked about sounds appealing to you, chances are you’ll find enough in Spiders to enjoy. It’s cheesy, certainly, but then how could it not be? Overall, it’s probably better than most giant spider movies you’ll see, if only considering the dearth of such films available.

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