Spiders (2013) [DVD]

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Every now and then, we should all watch a truly dreadful film, just to recalibrate our bottom line when it comes to movies. It allows us to better appreciate what other films can do with some talent and creativity despite even smaller budgets; or else recognise what blockbusters do with a professional cast and crew even when the script might be utterly inane. It even helps better contextualise what it is about the spectacularly flawed Lifeforce that somehow succeeds in making it a guilty pleasure despite the mess.

I’m quite a fan of oversize creature features (the 1950s classics Them! and Tarantula) and of spider movies in particular (Arachnophobia and Eight Legged Freaks for example) all of which is by way of explaining why, in a moment of weakness, a copy of this bargain-priced DVD of Spiders found its way into my hands when I was out shopping this week. I had rock-bottom expectations for it but figured it would fill a post-midnight slot when my brain was tired and just wanted something stupid to fill the static. Oh, boy, was I wrong.

Let’s start with some positives: the CGI is generally pretty decent, both in an opening sequence of a Soviet space station in orbit and also later as the spiders hatch out and start scuttling around the New York underground. The quality falls off as things descend into a monster chase/runaround and become more of the Primeval TV series level, but there are only a handful of shots deep in the second half where things become truly ropey – although the face-and-maw design of the spiders is hokey, and there’s a whopping discrepancy in the scale of the Queen Spider from scene to scene near the end. The worse shot of all is the very very final shot of the movie – a bizarrely cartoonesque and wholly unrealistic one that is out of step with everything that’s gone before.

Acting-wise you have Patrick Muldoon from Starship Troopers (yes, that was a long time ago.) He’s solid enough in the lead role, and Aliens/Spooks’ William Hope is reliable enough as an army colonel, but it’s alarming how quickly the acting gene pool thins out from there with not a single recognisable name to be found. The remaining cast rate all the way from ‘barely acceptable’ to ‘staggeringly bad and couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag’, but the genuine surprise here is that even the extras in crowd scenes are utterly appalling, stilted and unnatural as well. I can’t remember any other film where I’ve been so distracted by the terrible performances of the background artistes as much as I was here. At no point does anyone involved really look as though they’re doing anything other than go through the motions to pick up the paycheck and get a credit on their acting CV.

The sets and locations used for street-level scenes don’t even manage the bare minimum to pass as New York City (it was all shot in Bulgaria), meaning that the action occurs in a distractingly fake bubble world detached from its supposed setting in downtown Manhattan. It soon becomes painfully obvious that the film is recycling the same half dozen studio lot locations throughout the film – and not doing a nearly good enough job in disguising the fact, either.

Despite all this, a decent director working from a strong script could still have made something of it. Unfortunately, Spiders has neither. The arrival of the spiders and first death are rushed in within the first 15 minutes, purely to make way for 60 minutes of treading water with an unoriginal, distracting military conspiracy plot that eventually peters out because everyone involved is killed off. There’s a lot of running around in circles to rapidly decreasing effect, and all the while with massive plot holes and inconsistencies that even a ten-year-old would roll his or her eyes about for being so stupid.

Meanwhile the director Tibor Takács (who also takes a writing credit, so all of this lands firmly on his shoulders) has a passably competent way of actually shooting straightforward scenes and the film is bright and sharp and looks good with the exception of some of the later CGI-heavy moments. But seemingly on this evidence at least, Takács has no ability to make a film flow or to create atmosphere or any suspension of disbelief. While some of the early scenes with the scuttling spiders can send a little shiver down your spine if you’re so inclined when it comes to arachnids, it’s astounding how quickly the film botches their ability to thrill. The pedestrian and clichéd plot ultimately makes them so yawnsome that even the composer sounds like he can’t be bothered to put in the effort any more, and that he’s checked out to head for the bar while leaving the electronic keyboards to generate random generic notes to cover for his absence.

Arguably things might have been slightly better if this film were watched in 3D as presented in the theatres, but I very much doubt it (and I loath 3D with a passion so it wouldn’t have done anything for my mood anyway.) The DVD doesn’t have that option, but the Blu-ray package contains a 3D disc for those with compatible players and TV sets – neither of which I have, I’m proud to say. It was easy to tell which scenes are meant to be the 3D showstoppers: they’re largely the ‘jump at the screen’ spider attacks which just hark back to the 1950s 3D ethos of ‘pointy objects coming at you from the screen to make you jerk backwards’ type of fare. At least the pullback through the CGI Soviet space station shows a little artistic reach otherwise missing from the 89 minute running time.

Otherwise there is really nothing to recommend this film. It doesn’t even get close to the ‘so bad it’s good’ territory of a guilty pleasure such as Lifeforce because the whole thing is played in such a depressingly dour and po-faced way that there aren’t even any over-the-top, laugh-out-loud moments to warm to. Spiders is a movie doesn’t even have the wit to realise how bad it’s being or to attempt to play for the black humour of the moment, which would at least have given us something fun to bond over. Instead it ends up feeling like you’re enduring a low-budget training movie at an accountants’ conference.

You couldn’t rate Spiders as a B-movie, it’s several letters of the alphabet below those heady heights. Even suggesting that it belongs in the midnight slot on SyFy alongside the likes of Sharknado feels too high a compliment – the programmes on either side on the TV schedule would surely complain about this one bringing down the standards of the neighbourhood if you tried. It used to be director Uwe Boll’s name on the credits that was the recognised kite mark of straight-to-video garbage, but on this basis he’s been well and truly ousted from that position by Takács, who I will make a point of ensuring that I never watch another of his films again as long as I have my wits around me. He makes me upwardly reevaluate Michael Bay’s place in the grand scheme of moviemaking, and that’s not something that I am at all happy about or comfortable doing.

Currently available on DVD, and in 3D on Blu-ray. Extras include a ‘making of’ and cast and crew interviews.

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