SXSW Film Review – Big Ass Spider!
It’s hard to be serious when writing a review for a film titled Big Ass Spider!. I must admit, I’m not an expert on the kind of films that generally come out of the SyFy channel these days, but every now and then I’ve been known to watch a Sharktopus, so I was at least curious. I do love the cheese factor of those sorts of films, and this one had two other very strong elements that spoke to me when reading the SXSW film guide: I hated spiders as a kid and I’m a huge fan of Greg Grunberg.
This is probably one of the best descriptive titles in terms of selling a movie that has ever been conceived. You get a pretty clear sense of what you are going to get: a cheesy monster movie with a dash of humor thrown in. Frankly, if you don’t already know that, then I don’t know what to tell you; you probably need to go back and revisit some of the monster creature movies that have a long and illustrious history in Hollywood. I remember watching classic films such as The Creature From The Black Lagoon, Godzilla, and Them! as a kid, and then catching the modern wave with movies like Anaconda and Lake Placid. They hold a special place in society, as they speak to the notion of there being consequences for our actions.
The story here begins after an experimental spider escapes from a military research facility. As it continues to grow and rampage throughout Los Angeles, it is left up to the exterminator Alex (Greg Gunberg) and his sidekick Jose (Lombardo Boyar) to save the day. The idea is a bit tongue in cheek, but there is an underlying message that if you mess with a spider’s DNA you risk the destruction of humanity when it becomes a big ass spider. We’ve probably been too desensitized to spiders thanks to the heroism of Spider-Man…it was about time somebody brought us back to reality.
Greg Grunberg is hardly your typical leading man in terms of looks, but he has been successful in the same vein as someone like Bruce Campbell, in that he oozes charisma. Largely known for his supporting work (and his recurrent presence in his childhood friend J.L. Abrams’s projects), it is awesome to get the opportunity to see him in a lead role. Horror (especially horror comedy) is a genre that tends to live and die by the success of lead actors, and in that regard this film is a solid. Grunberg is one of those few people who has the talent to make even the most absurd moments feel believable, as well as the ability to switch between comedy and drama effortlessly.
Beyond him and a small part from Ray Wise, the cast was largely unfamiliar to me, and largely lived up to modest expectations. The biggest surprise is Lombardo Boyar, who appears as Grunberg’s sidekick Jose. Perhaps running a bit heavy on being a stereotypical Latino character, the chemistry between Grunberg and Boyar still feels very natural, and you could see the two being friends in real life. They could easily build a franchise around these two characters in a sort of Abbott and Costello capacity, and depending on the success of the movie, I would be willing to bet on that happening.
Probably the most important element of a movie like this, though, is the quality of the special effects. I would best describe them as effective; they hardly rewrite the book, but given the budget, they are pretty impressive. The film will certainly fall in line with similar recent movies such as Troll Hunter. Director Mike Mendez does add a bit more cinematic feel to the project with his more stylized use of music and camera movement than you generally get in your traditional SyFy channel fare. As you would hope for, there is a fair amount of action, and while that action is entertaining, I think the film works best when it focuses on the comedy. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded if they’d toned down the action to give Grunberg and Boyar more time to joke around on screen.
Big Ass Spider! isn’t going to rewrite the monster book; in fact, it probably is in line with a lot of the projects coming out of SyFy. The film sees its greatest success when it embraces the cheesiness of the premise, and while it is in line with a lot of what is being made today, it does incrementally raise the bar and give a more cinematic feel. It might not necessarily be worth the DVD purchase, but this certainly is perfect for a midnight movie screening with some friends.
Final Grade: B-