The Movie Waffler FrightFest 2019 Review - CRITTERS ATTACK! | The Movie Waffler

FrightFest 2019 Review - CRITTERS ATTACK!

critters attack review
The Crites return to Earth!

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Bobby Miller

Starring: Dee Wallace, Tashiana Washington, Ava Preston, Jack Fulton, Jaeden Noel

critters attack poster

Following the success of Joe Dante's Gremlins, the horror section of your local '80s VHS emporium quickly became overstuffed with knockoffs in which small town America comes under siege from miniature menaces. While the likes of Ghoulies and Munchies were very much content with their straight to video lot, the Critters franchise had a bit more about it, possibly because its script was penned before the release of Gremlins and so wasn't simply a cynical cash-in.

critters attack review

Several of Critters' acting alumni have gone onto bigger things, most notably a certain Leonardo DiCaprio, along with Angela Bassett, Billy Zane and Lin Shaye, while the franchise boasted early work from directors Mick Garris and Stephen Herek, and writer David Twohy. Arriving 27 years after the previous instalment, 1992's Critters 4, is Critters Attack!, but I wouldn't bet any money on anyone going on to bigger things from this turkey.

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Not to be confused with Critters: A New Binge, the recent series made for horror streaming platform Shudder, Critters Attack! is more of a reboot than a straight continuation of the original series. Dee Wallace, who appeared in the first movie, returns here, but as a completely different character, or is it? Here, Wallace plays a bounty-hunter who follows the Crites - the carnivorous alien furballs every '80s kid will be familiar with - to Earth when their craft lands in a small town in Middle America. Presumably for legal reasons, the movie keeps shtum as to whether Wallace is reprising her original role or not, but she has a total screen time of about 10 minutes so I wouldn't lose any sleep over this issue.

critters attack review

True to form, the Crites go on a man-eating rampage across the town. Just to provoke further comparisons to Gremlins, Critters Attack! adds Bianca, a cute Gizmo-esque Crite queen who finds herself taken in by the film's young heroes, who find her wounded in the local woods. If Bianca is the only female Crite, as the film suggests, then questions have to be asked regarding the male Crites' ability to reproduce, as we've seen in previous instalments of the series.

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In the US, Critters Attack! premiered on the SyFy channel, which is never a good sign. Thankfully, unlike the Mega-Mackerel vs Super-Salmon fodder that makes up most of that network's original programming, Critters Attack! eschews Nintendo GameCube level CG for old school practical FX. The Crites are their good old puppet selves, but director Bobby Miller never finds anything inventive for the little terrors to get up to. Most of the kills occur offscreen, and those we are treated to are instantly forgettable. With its youthful cast, sub-functional dialogue and televisual blandness, Critters Attack! often resembles a Nickelodeon show. Perhaps it's aiming to capture a new, youthful audience rather than returning fans of the franchise, but I know when I was a kid I had no interest in watching a monster movie that wasn't made primarily for an adult audience.

critters attack review

While Critters Attack! features tween-age protagonists and is largely gore-free, it has a mean-spirited edge that makes it difficult to embrace. This sort of movie relies on creating unlikeable characters that will later provide amusement when the monster chows down on them, but the only genuinely unlikeable character here is Drea (Tashiana Washington), who is the film's protagonist! Drea has the sort of bitchy, bimboish attitude that you more readily associate with the 'mean girl' who usually gets her head bitten off in the climax, much to the audience's relief. She treats everyone she encounters with disdain, and projects an entitled, stuck-up air that makes it impossible to get behind her. There's some cheap backstory about her mother dying in a car accident, and late on another character remarks how Drea blames herself for her mother's death, but we've seen no evidence of this in the movie prior to this point, and it certainly doesn't excuse her sociopathic behaviour. You might expect Drea's character arc will see her come out the other side of this experience a better person, but no, she's still a cold-hearted ghoul at the end of the movie, expressing not the slightest pang of guilt when others die helping her out. Conversely, a lot of characters die awful deaths that they really don't deserve, such as the young dork whose only crime seems to be a love of the bag-pipes!

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If Critters began life as a cash-in on Gremlins (something original creator Herek has vehemently denied), perhaps it's fitting that the franchise will likely be killed off by this cheap nostalgic exploitation of its own brand.

Critters Attack! is on blu-ray/DVD/VOD now.

2019 movie reviews