ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND EST: 23rd December
RUNNING TIME: 80 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Alex Mathis is a Los Angeles-based vermin exterminator, with a special penchant for getting rid of spiders, who often works for free. After being bitten on the job, he finds himself in hospital, but this is merely the beginning of his troubles. While he’s upstairs receiving treatment, the mortician downstairs is attacked by a vicious spider burrowed inside a dead body. Alex sets out to find and exterminate the baddie, but quickly learns that this is no ordinary arachnid. Rather, it’s a government experiment gone wrong, and the U.S. military, along with a scientist who explains that the spider will grow in size the more it kills, arrives to put the building in lock down…..
When a film has a title like Big Ass Spider! [changed from Mega Spider] to the point of separating the join between the first two words and adding an exclamation mark to the end of the third, you ought to know exactly what you’re in for, and if you’re not partial to tacky monster movies with their tongue firmly in their cheek, then you’ll probably know to avoid it. Big Ass Spider! though, a film which has been shown in quite a few festivals as opposed to going straight to home viewing or TV, is a distinct cut above your typical offering from Syfy or Asylum. Its humour tends to overshadow the fear element a little too much, and to be honest it doesn’t give you much that is original, not so much presenting all the usual cliches but revelling in them, but its script is quite sharp, to the point that some bits are genuinely funny rather than groan-worthy funny, its acting is solid, its special effects actually mostly rather good, and its direction tight and well executed, though if you’ve seen [and not enough people have] Mike Mendez’s underrated 80’s horror throwback The Gravedancers, you should know that at the very least you’re going to have lots of fun.
The film unusually opens near the end of its story, with our hero Alex wondering dazed through streets full of cars of fire, people running and screaming, and soldiers shooting at something. Alex looks up at something and we see what he’s looking at. It’s the spider, and pretty big-ass, on the side of a skyscraper battling helicopters! Within one minute, the film has confidently shown us its monster, and it really does look rather impressive with a fair amount of detail and seeming like it actually is part of the film rather than pasted onto it as a lot of creatures in films like this often appear to be. The helicopters, explosions and falling debris are less impressive, in fact the helicopters are very poor indeed, but then again I could say the same about the ones in Olympus Has Fallen, which was a major Hollywood studio film with a big budget, and therefore didn’t really have an excuse for such bad effects, except for the fact that, perhaps, CGI isn’t really as good as it’s made out to be and some things just rarely look good [it’s only in the last four years or so that I feel they’ve got water right, for instance].
In any case, within a minute of Big Ass Spider!, you’re told that the spider looks decent, and that’s what is most important. We now go back to a time before all the commotion, and a very funny scene between Alex and Lin Shaye on top form as a well-meaning but irritating woman with a pest problem who is obviously quite often a client of Alex’s. When he answers her question about whether he has a girlfriend yet, she replies: “When you do, she is gonna be exhausted”, and when Alex is about to take the insect to a field, cries: “Break its legs first”! Something nagged me about the scene though until I realised what it was – the comedic music underscoring some of the scene was identical to a cue often used in the TV series Elementary, an episode of which I’d just watched! O well, never mind, the film continues in this light, breezy, almost sit-com manner for a while. Greg Grunberg, who is far better in amusing roles than more serious stuff like Heroes, reinforces the script’s writing of our hero Greg as an arrogant, goofy variation on John Goodman’s role in Arachnophobia. He describes what he does thus:
“I get into a spider’s head, think like a spider, move like a spider…..I become a spider to catch a spider”.
When a character says stuff like that with the actor trying his best to keep a very straight face, then you have to love such a person even if he’s both inept and positively sleazy when he tries to chat up a nurse. Unlike many similar films where the bits not involving their monsters can be both dull and stupid, Big Ass Spider! is really good fun constantly with its amusing banter and quirky characters, even if the lines decrease slightly in quality after a while. Of course, it is first and foremost about a spider, and the spider scenes are short and sharp at first. There is a bit of gore, including a face melting which looks just like a certain death scene at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but it’s of the harmless, fun variety, the kind a child would most likely go “urgh” at but then keep on watching happily a film which, despite its certificate, I doubt would trouble most under-15s. Despite a whole load of HE’S BEHIND YOU moments though, Big Ass Spider! could have done with a bit more fear in its moments where the spider is the size of a normal spider: after all, spiders are pretty frightening things to most people. There’s nothing approaching, for example, the shower bit in Arachnophobia.
Then again, Big Ass Spider! seems more to be looking at far older efforts like Earth Vs The Giant Spider, which it particularly reminded me of. The second half is pretty much non-stop action, with the ever-increasing spider on screen for most of the time, whether it’s rampaging through a park impaling nubile beauties with its legs or dispatching a whole load of soldiers in a ‘Found Footage’-influenced scene which seems to satirise that genre. Images and even set-pieces recall King Kong, Aliens, Them, even the American Godzilla, while certain cliches are pointedly made fun of. A scientist gives possibly the most ludicrous explanation for a monster’s origin I’ve ever heard, while ‘Expert’ Alex tells everyone what the spider’s going to do before being proved wrong immediately after he’s finished yapping away. The army has equipment which looks about twenty years out of date, while half way through Alex teams up with a Mexican security guard [a very funny Lombardo Boyar] to make the most amusing buddy team in a long time. Of course there’s aslso a hot chick [Clare Kramer] who is frosty to our hero but you just know will melt eventually. It’s all as cheesy as an Abba concert, while it’s always easier to make a silly monster movie than a serious one, but damn it if I wasn’t behind our intrepid pair as they race around in their yellow van trying to save the world, often with corny heroic music in the background.
Meanwhile the spider, except for a few shots, is far more convincing than you may expect, and for the most part does look and act like a spider, though he does use the heroes’ van as a shield against army bullets. What really impressed me was the quality of the work in matching the monster with the backgrounds and the characters. Perhaps it doesn’t look like its 100% there, but I would say at least 70%, and that’s impressive. I suppose it seems silly that I’m rating this film seven out of ten, which is basically the lower part of four stars out of five. Its limitations and flaws are evident, while all this self-awareness can get rather cloying. However, its writer and director clearly have a love for this genre, while the fun the cast are clearly having in front of the camera is quite infectious. I had a blast.