Saturday, February 13, 2016

In short: Bats (1999)

A small town in Texas has developed a bit of a bat problem. Two flying dogs infected with an experimental virus have escaped the laboratory of mad scientist Dr. McCabe (Bob Gunton) and have infected the local bat population, turning them into a murderous, tactically adept swarm of super bats. Of course we will later learn McCabe was trying to weaponize bats for the government, turning them stronger, more intelligent, omnivorous and just plain evil. Whatever could go wrong?

The CDC very quickly flies in chiropterologist Dr. Sheila Casper (Dina Meyer) and her assistant Jimmy (Leon). Together with local Sheriff Emmett Kimsey (Lou Diamond Phillipps, of course) they’ll have quite the time fighting what will turn out to be not just a murderous bat-menace but in fact the dawning of the batpocalypse. (And let’s not even think about what’ll happen if that virus reached Gotham City).

Yes yes yes, I know the plot of this thing is silly, its science absurd, and its characters shallow, but Louis Morneau’s Bats is also a whole load of fun when you’re in the mood to watch a highly traditional film about animals/monsters attacking a US small town. It might even be the platonic ideal of the form, cutting off all extraneous meat – nobody needs to get over a divorce here, there are no children involved except as bat food – only leaving the most important and tastiest bits of its genre. On the writing level, it also recommends itself by having a female lead scientist who never becomes The Girl but stays convincingly competent and tough without being an asshole about it (which is just the right role for Dina Meyer), no romance but more a not even grudgingly growing friendship between the main characters, a black character who might be the comic relief (of dubious merit) but is still allowed to actually do something and – spoilers, sweeties! - doesn’t die, and possibly the most ridiculous animal species to weaponize imaginable (unless there’s a film about killer goldfish I’m not aware of, Megashark vs Giant Goldfish, perhaps).

Add to that Morneau’s typically excellent direction, filled with cleverly set-up moments of classic suspense, breakneck pacing and an ability to create a sense of place that helps proceedings feel less generic than they actually are, and you have one of the finest examples of this sub-genre you could imagine. But that’s not all: there are also the ridiculously awesome animatronic bat puppets used for most close-ups of our monsters, as well as the film’s many scenes of bats crawling around that look less like bats than like the stuff of nightmares, a fine send-up of the genre-typical “but one still survived!” ending, the total uselessness of the US military, the Sheriff rocking Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, and so on and so fort. I think I’m in love, and it’s Bats!

No comments: