It isn’t every year that not one, but TWO sequels/spinoffs to a popular horror series drop, but that’s the case with Critters: A New Binge and Critters Attack!, with the latter world premiering at Fantasia 2019 this past weekend. But some Critters fans won’t be happy to know that the two have much more in common than they’d like…
…Now, just to be clear, I actually enjoyed the hell out of A New Binge for all of its over-the-top, Family Guy-style comedy, despite totally missing the mark on the horror elements we all crave. That being said, I understand why fans weren’t happy with it. Attack!, while biting deeper into the roots of the original, fails to be entertaining on both a comedic and scary level. Directed by Bobby Miller (The Cleanse), and written by Scott Lobdell (Happy Death Day), Critters Attack! follows young adult Drea (Tashiana Washington), who wants nothing more than to go to the same college her mom went to. To up her odds of getting in, Drea reluctantly takes a job to babysit the kids of one of the college professors, which just happens to be on the same night that a pod full of our favorite furry, roly-poly monsters land in town for a snack.
Fans will be happy to know that, unlike A New Binge, Attack! does take much of its inspiration from the original, opening with a spaceship soaring over a guy on a bike on a lonely night road, recalling the first film’s Charlie and his initial encounter with the crites. Those that didn’t like A New Binge will also appreciate that Attack! tries to keep things simpler this time around, bringing us back to the classic vibe of a small town under siege by alien critters in the middle of the night. And for that extra kick of nostalgia, it’s also a delight to see Dee Wallace return to the franchise, though for some reason, not as her original character, but as a bounty-hunting badass named Aunt Dee…get it? Cue the eye rolls.
Taking a cue from Laurie Strode in Halloween (2018), Dee kicks the doors down on the franchise as a take no alien prisoners badass packing big guns and a ton of attitude. But don’t get too excited, because she’s barely in the film, and spends most of it wandering around doing absolutely nothing. The bare-bones cast of characters doesn’t do much to cover up for that fact, either. Drea and the other kids we follow, including younger brother, Phillip (Jaeden Noel), are flat as boards, made more obvious by the ridiculously quirky characters around them, like a bag-pipe playing security guard and a psychotic sushi chef. Not only is the main cast of characters devoid of personality, but the forced dialogue they’re given is spoken like bricks falling out of their mouths, followed by a whole lot of unconvincing performances from everyone that leaves a ton to be desired emotionally.
Seriously, Critters Attack! is on a level of bad Nickelodeon show emoting. For example, when Drea and the others discover Bianca, a “good”, Gizmo-esque female crite, no one has any reaction. None. They’re all totally fine with her, and think nothing of an animal that is clearly not from earth. This is why you can’t get into college, Drea! As for Bianca, she’s perfectly adorable and yes I do want one of my own. But, like Dee, the filmmakers keep Bianca contained for most of the film, allowing her to do very little and not taking advantage of the cutest crite to ever grace the silver screen. For shame.
Meanwhile, Critters Attack! attempts to stay true to the crites we already know and love, with mixed results. Treated like a fast growing contagion that begins with one crite and quickly spreads through town, we watch as critters get into all kinds of the sort of crite-scapades we’re used to, whether it be chewing on phone-lines or getting together for a romp through town as a giant, man eating fur ball. In that sense, Critters Attack! reeks of nostalgia and feels like home for any kid that grew up watching these films. And while it isn’t nearly as horrific as the original franchise, substituting scares for jokes that almost never land, Critters Attack! isn’t shy about getting bloody.
The effects are where the filmmakers really let their love for the franchise shine. Critters Attack! is overflowing with buckets of goopy, green crite guts. Well-made crite puppets with a more classic look are squashed, blown apart and sliced in half for the sake of fun, creature feature carnage. Dee Wallace calling a crite a “dumbass” before blowing it away in an explosion of critter limbs is easily the best part of the film. Surprisingly, the one thing we don’t get like we usually do with the nasty monsters are the vulgar subtitles. For most, it’s going to be too little too late, as most of what makes Critters Attack! worth the watch doesn’t occur until the final minutes. I could’ve used more of the entertaining terror and less of the kookiness of birds pooping on a ranger’s face, or a college frat bro taking off his shirt for no reason to fight the monsters, but perhaps that’s just me.
What few bits of genuine entertainment there are don’t do enough to overcome the giant, hairy ball of problems that Critters Attack! is. It isn’t the scary fun of the originals, nor is it the outrageously stupid though effective humor of Critters: A New Binge. Critters Attack! is a by the numbers horror comedy that doesn’t do either well, and fails to build much suspense throughout because of it. I’d wait to feast on this one until it’s streaming somewhere, unless your sense of humor is dad jokes with an alien twist.
Critters Attack rolls onto Blu-ray/DVD & VOD July 23rd.
By Matt Konopka