Thursday, November 26, 2015

Arachnid (2001)

Somewhere in the South Pacific. An air force pilot crashes into an invisible UFO and saves himself only to have an unfortunate encounter with an alien and an uncomfortably large spider.

Some time later, a patient with a previously unknown infection caused by some mysterious bite has come into the loving care of the hospital of Dr. Leon (José Sancho) from an island somewhere close by. Off-screen Leon has set up an expedition to the island to find the cause of the infection and provide treatment for the locals if necessary. The island is rather difficult to reach, so it’s a nice twist of fate former air force hot shot Mercer (Alex Reis) has come to the area as pilot for hire. We will later learn the pilot of the intro sequence is her brother and she has been looking for him ever since he disappeared.

Apart from Mercer and Leon, the expedition consists of spider expert Henry Capri (Ravily Isyanov), probably because he really knows about bites, Leon’s assistant and former jungle badass Susana (Neus Asensi), three former marines – the leader and obvious male lead Valentine (Chris Potter), and his men Bear (Roqueford Allen) and the soon to be particularly unfortunate Lightfoot (Jesús Cabron) – and local guide Toe Boy (Robert Vicencio). Things go badly for the expedition right from the start – a mysterious loss of all electronics in Mercer’s plane leads to a crash that only doesn’t become deadly because she’s a superior pilot, something is making it impossible to radio the outside, and these are only the minor problems. It doesn’t help that Leon is such a major asshole he’s the last person who should lead any kind of expedition, and Mercer’s as prickly as she is competent. The latter actually makes a lot of sense for a female ex-military member even when you disregard the whole business about her missing brother, because I imagine not taking any shit at all will quickly become a very useful survival technique for a woman in a military environment with all the prejudices and macho bullshit she’d have to cut through.

And did I mention the jungle our heroes will have to make their way through now instead of flying over it is full of mutated spiders and other unpleasantness like huge ticks with even nastier habits than is the tick baseline?

Until now, I somehow managed not to see this film from Brian Yuzna’s short Fantastic Factory time in Spain, for reasons only known to the Gods that make me watch the films I watch and not others. Couldn’t I have seen this earlier rather than Paranormal Activity, ye Gods!?

It’s directed by good old dependable Jack Sholder in a good old dependable way, without much fanciness but with a good eye for traditional suspense effects and the pleasant absurdities of monster movies in the semi-classic style. It’s enhanced for the new millennium with a bit more ickiness and a script that doesn’t exactly break new grounds but does generally avoid to treat its female or non-white characters different (worse) than the white and male ones. Which might also have to do with the fact the film’s nominal male lead is actually a nice guy for a soldier but also frightfully boring. We’re not talking a major rethinking of the less pleasant genre traditions here (and the film still has some moments in its first half that can raise some eyebrows in mild irritation) but a film that realizes one major flaw of a 50s world view is that it just isn’t any fun and so cuts it out of a film that is all about fun.

For this truly is the sort of traditionally minded monster movie about twenty percent of the similarly positioned yet less usually less exciting SyFy Originals manage to be, though much less jokey and with often pretty damn beautiful practical effects standing in for shitty CGI (even though the CGI that is in here is indeed pretty damn shitty too), and a giant mother spider that looks convincingly unpleasant in at least half of its scenes (in a few, it just looks too stiff to be believable). So we get various joyfully silly yet effective monsters, some awesome fights against monsters while our cast is whittled down, a bit of body horror because who doesn’t like the icky stuff, and characters likeable enough we don’t necessarily want to see them killed. And if that doesn’t sound like fun to you, you’re just not part of the audience Arachnid was made for; I, on the other hand (see also several dozen write-ups of SyFy Originals, more than a few of them positive) am that audience, and find myself mightily pleased.

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