Snatchers

2020 | rated R | starring Mary Nepi, Gabrielle Elyse | directed by Stephen Cedars & Benji Kleiman | 1 hr 36 mins |

2020 Halloween Horrorfest #1 of 1

After making the journey from short film to web series, Snatchers makes its modest film debut. The movie is a now seen-before blend of teen angst and genre horror, closely emulating Edgar Wright’s Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy in tone, pace and snap-zoom style. It’s full of unconvincing CGI, goofy puppet effects and boner jokes – and it’s one of the more fun genre films I’ve seen this dreary Halloween season.

With very little of note this year in the way of horror releases, and my usual October Halloween Horror Movie Marathon a near complete bust – Snatchers emerged as the genre-mixed jewel. Part sci-fi rubber monster movie, part Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive and part Booksmart, this little thing with obvious budgetary limitations blasts out of the gate with sugar-fueled energy from the jump and doesn’t let go. It’s fast, efficiently put together, kinda-sorta unique and a lot of bloody fun.

Sara (Mary Nepi) is a high schooler just obnoxious and full-of-herself enough to sit in the top echelon of the school social hierarchy. In the process she’s left behind her childhood bestfriend Hayley (Gabrielle Elyese). After a night with her boyfriend she wakes up the next day very pregnant. A trip to the abortion clinic unleashes a fast hissing alien lobster creature who plugs itself into people’s heads and puppeteers them and sends Sara and Hayley on a wild night of mending friendships and fighting monsters. A bit Body Snatchers but not a lot.

I can’t say that I’m thrilled with the latest iteration of a movie following the Edgar Wright Shaun of the Dead horror/comedy model, but following that model doesn’t inherently make a fun movie. Directors Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman (who have apparently been living with this one story for a while) have the skills and ability to make it work. When the movie gets around it’s budget with a series of quick snap-zooms or our characters wave around unconvincing rubber hand props for severed limbs it matches everything else in the movie’s quick, vibrant, offbeat but not aggressively quirky style and tone. The girls give solid performances with a nice chemistry. The movie also manages to weave together a multi-dimensional but hardly complicated plot that involves the girls, the aliens, a Mexican vacation to a Mayan museum, Sara’s relationship with her mother, her friendship with Hayley, character actor Rich Fulcher showing up in what sounds like a Neil Breen impression and whatever the A-group snobs are up to at a high school party. I particularly liked the ending, which wraps all of these up in one clever, uncut dolly pullback.

Snatchers isn’t here to comment on teen pregnancy or abortion, but it doesn’t mind using those things as a gateway to it’s frothy, free-wheeling CGI bloodletting. The film is totally cheesy and appropriately silly. It’s not that funny, but it’s also not labored and forced, It’s breezy and knows exactly where to go to play this story out to it’s most ridiculous without overstaying it’s welcome. It’s not as good as, say, last year’s teen zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse but if you, like me, have exhausted most of your new Halloween viewing options, Snatchers is a good option. The most fresh and fun new thing I watched this spooky season.

 

Little Monsters | 2019 | rated R | starring Alexander England, Lupita Nyong’o, Josh Gad | written & directed by Abe Forsythe | 1 hr 33 mins |

The best way to explain why a movie like Snatchers works is to contrast it with one that doesn’t. Little Monsters is a similarly themed low-budget horror comedy from Australia. It has a tin ear for the genre and sluggishly lurches from one tired zombie bit to the next.

After a unique opening sequence chronicling David (Alexander England) and his girlfriend fighting all the time everywhere they go, Dave catches her having an affair and ends up living with his sister and young son. Taking him to school one day he becomes infatuated with the boy’s teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o) and volunteers to help her on a field trip to a child’s petting zoo and farm. In a nearby military complex zombies breakout and attack the farm sending the kids, their wards and a famous local children’s show host (Josh Gad) running for cover.

Taking an adult horror concept and ironically mixing it with something cutesy has been a tactic to jumpstart life into a tired formula (in this case, zombies) for quite some time. Little Monsters feels like the most transparently unimaginative and cynical version of this with the jokes stipped to their ironic essence. “Look, a kid’s show host is cursing”, “Look, a wholesome family place is being brutalized by zombies”. None of this is offensive, it’s tired and it never shifts out of that base level ironic contrast to an actual joke. I was tired of this with the kid zombie picture Cooties and several years later this feels horribly out of date.

The big draw here is Lupita Nyong’o fresh from being Oscar snubbed just because Us was a horror film. She’s a sweet inspiration for our hero, Dave, but doesn’t offer the level of zombie ass-kicking you’re expecting. Actually, there is no zombie ass-kicking. The movie is mostly people hiding in the farm’s office while the military bumbles around outside. The zombies pose almost no threat. One scene where Gadd and England run to a waiting car curiously shows the slow moving zombies several yards behind them in the background minding their own business. The movie isn’t interested in zombies as a villain or dreaming up any set pieces where they interact – at all – with our characters. You could pull the zombies out of this movie and replace it with literally anything and it wouldn’t change a single action.

Little Monsters drags brutally, it looks pedestrian, it doesn’t have a single joke that works and it’s jammed with Taylor Swift music and even resurrects “MM’Bop” for an ironic tag. It is irony poisoned with no release valve. Snatchers is a shot of adrenaline in comparison. It has a colorful, frothy energy as a result of a clipped pace and self aware filmmaking. For a movie that seems so innocent and harmless, I hated Little Monsters. 

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