Critters Attack!September 10, 2019
Note: Review copy supplied by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
Title: Critters Attack!
Genre: Sci-Fi / Horror / Comedy
Length: 89 minutes
Extras: Engineering Gore: Designing Critters, Critters: An Out-of-this-World Experience, The Critter Ball, A Scene Specific Audio Commentary with Bobby Miller and Marty Krite.
In this continuation of the beloved 80s film series, a young townie must protect the kids she’s babysitting from an invasion of Crites – tiny, insatiable, carnivorous aliens – who’ve returned to capture a runaway royal of the species. Who will survive? And who will be eaten?
Way back in 1986, a sci-fi comedy horror film called Critters was released. The titular monsters, also known as Krites, were created as puppets and the film is often compared to the more successful Gremlins. While not the most well-regarded film of all time, between 1988 and 1992, three sequels were created (each leaning more into comedy than the last), the third of which featured a young Leonardo DiCaprio in his first-ever film role. The franchise then quietly disappeared until this year.
After the poorly received web series Critters: A New Binge landed earlier this year, fans of the franchise were hoping that this new film would be a step back in the right direction. Was it? In many ways, yes.
So, the film was brought about by a collaboration by SyFy and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. My first concern when I read that was that much of SyFy’s horror work, while tonally heading in the right direction, is CG heavy. Critters has always been a puppet franchise, and without those physical creatures on screen, it wouldn’t seem right. Thankfully, the team behind the film felt the same way. The Krites in this movie are a mix of old school puppets with some animatronic elements. What this means is that they have a very similar feel to the old films, but are capable of being more emotive in terms of facial movements.
It was so nice to see the film take this approach. I’ve always preferred practical effects to CG, and this is a good example of why. It may be a little campy, but you can see that there’s something on-screen with the cast. That makes things so much better to look at in my opinion. Even better is that there is some diversity in design here, with some of the Krites – most notably the scarred male and the female Bianca – looking distinctly different from the more standard monsters. That Steve Blum, the voice actor behind Black War Greymon (Digimon Adventure 02) and Darcia (Wolf’s Rain) voices the Krites is an added bonus!
The human cast is decent enough given the nature of the script. Tashiana Washington (Shaft 2019) does a great job as our main protagonist Drea, and it was great seeing Dee Wallace return to the franchise after her turn as one of the leads in the original film. Most of the others are fine, Tristan de Beer’s performance as Gregory Sax felt a little too hammy to me.
Tonally, the film is summed up well by the first Krite attack. Sushi delivery guy Kevin Loong is the unfortunate victim, and the scene does a good job of building up a ‘where and what are they’ tension that quickly switches to Kevin cliché tripping then being dragged off without us ever getting a clear shot of the Krites. Then, a small puppet arm reaches onto the screen and takes a sushi rice ball. Throughout the film, that’s essentially what you get: old school monster fluff with a mix of predictability and humour flanking it.
In a way, I think it’s a shame that the film leans so heavily into the comedy at times. This clearly isn’t designed to be a laugh a minute title, but there are plenty of attempts at humour in there. For me, the gags that involved the Krites themselves seemed to work best. Little snippets of one coughing up bubbles after eating soap, or the result of gnawing an electric cable are fun. On the other hand, the human-centered pieces – like security guard/bagpipe player Shaun’s attempts at flirting with Drea – are a little more cringe-worthy. The one exception being Drea voicing my thoughts when Gregory took his top off for no reason.
The biggest problem the film has is really the way it doesn’t quite touch upon everything it should. Dee Wallace stated in an interview that her character, Auntie Dee, is Helen from the first film but with a new alias to tie in with her work as a Krite bounty hunter. That’s really cool but doesn’t really get explained in the film. Instead, we see her tracking them, she turns up, says she’s a bounty hunter and gets to work. A short scene of her explaining her connection to the alien beasties would have worked wonders.
In the same way, one of the kids, Jake Lacy, only communicates via text for most of the film. We never learn why, or what he’s actually looking at on his phone all the time. I’m not expecting Critters to make a pseudo-psychological examination of modern kids and electronic communication, but something touching on it would have been nice.
Once the credits roll, there are some really cool extras to watch though. Each of the featurettes is short, but you get to see how the Krites are made and the sheer amount of work that goes into them appearing on screen. It’s fascinating for fans of practical effects, and I thought it was great seeing the cast talking about their experiences with the puppets. I thought that the audio commentary was maybe not as funny as it was intended, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who will enjoy it.
All in all, Critters Attack! is not a perfect film, nor is it as good as the original. What it is though is an entertaining, well-made film that doesn’t outstay its welcome. I love the puppets, the gore hits the right level, and it generally worked. While some things perhaps represent missed opportunities, and others fall a little flat, the film balances itself well. There’s enough nostalgia packed in for existing fans to find some enjoyment in it, but it also looks nice and new enough for modern audiences to enjoy it if they stumble across it. I give this a solid 3.75 out of 5. If they can keep up the quality and build upon the positives, I’d certainly be interested in seeing any sequels SyFy/Warner Bros. create.
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