In real life, I’m the kind of person that catches and releases spiders in my home instead of killing them. But when it comes to spiders in horror, fucking burn them because they are the arachnid spawn of the devil! A good spider-horror flick never fails to unnerve me, and Itsy Bitsy has the scariest spider of the year…
…Bringing this nightmare to viewers on Friday is director Micah Gallo with his debut feature, from a script by Gallo, Jason Alvino and Bryan Dick (Killer Under the Bed). Itsy Bitsy follows a mother, Kara (Elizabeth Roberts) and her two kids, Jesse (Arman Darbo) and Cambria (Chloe Perrin) as she moves them to a small town after having accepted a job as a nurse, taking care of a dying man, Walter (Bruce Davison). Once there though, Kara and her family find themselves the target of an ancient spider goddess that has been released from an old artifact in Walter’s home.
Itsy Bitsy opens with a tribal ritual that features lots of enormous web cutting, which instantly had me saying “nope, no way, uh uh”. Back to the present, and an ancient vase containing the spider is smuggled out of a foreign land and brought straight to Walter, a retired archaeologist. The film automatically elicits an eerie vibe with a creature that seems otherworldly, alien, and legendary. Legendary would be a great way to describe this spider as well, but more on that in a minute. That’s the part of Itsy Bitsy that works well. As for the rest, well, not so much.
How you feel about the characters in Itsy Bitsy is going to depend on how much shouting and over the top emotion you can handle. The reason Kara has uprooted her family and come to this small town has nothing to do with the job, and everything to do with her own traumas and her inability to face them. Roberts does well in the role, but her character can’t go one scene without looking totally on edge or freaking out, and she spends most of her time staring into space and reliving the tragic car accident which took the life of her youngest son. Her kids can’t stand her. Walter can’t stand her. And as much as I could relate to her, I couldn’t stand her either.
But again, that’s not Roberts’ fault. And it’s not because her character is dealing with trauma. It’s that Itsy Bitsy rarely allows its characters to come off naturally. Outside of a few sweet moments between adorable Cambria and her genuinely good hearted brother, Jesse, so much of the dialogue involves people, most of them practically strangers, becoming way too aggressive with each other for scenes to feel genuine. One in particular stands out between Kara and Sheriff Jane (Denise Crosby), in which Jane sits down with Kara at a café and hardcore pressures her into telling her why she looks sad to the point where I was yelling “damn, let the woman drink her coffee!” Never mind that just about everyone gets a chance to yell at the top of their lungs at Kara. I’m sorry, but so much excessive drama is exhausting, and while I don’t believe in needing to like every character, I at least want to be able to stand watching them.
Thanks to a whole lot of tired dialogue and character relationships that never really drew me in, Itsy Bitsy crawls more than it scurries, but fans of good practical effects will find a lot of that worth it just for the frightening spider. I love Bruce Davison, but the spider is the real star of Itsy Bitsy. Gallo has a history working with visual effects in film, and it shows with his ooey gooey spider goddess. All eight legs on this thing crackle and pop, and it just keeps getting bigger. There’s a genuine love for practical effects monsters evident in this creature, and it makes every moment with it special. Warning to anyone who is even the slightest bit afraid of spiders, this glistening monster will make your skin crawl. It also leaves some pretty nasty, yellow-goop filled bites that had me gagging every time. Creature features are often all about the monster, and Itsy Bitsy is no different. It’s all about the spider. The spider is God. And have I mentioned the spider?
Sadly, the creature in Itsy Bitsy is a bit underutilized. With Kara and her kids the prime focus of the creature for reasons I won’t spoil, most of our time with the spider is spent watching it creep around Cambria’s bedroom. Or hanging out in trees, judging people with its many, many judgey eyes. Unlike many of its predecessors, Itsy Bitsy saves nearly all of its arachnophobic terror for the finale. This isn’t the special effects extravaganza you may expect, but more of a carefully constructed web that entangles the viewer and strikes just when we least expect it. Gallo is great at prolonging the suspense and making the audience anxious as we wait to see what this spider is going to do, and like I said, the slow spin of this yarn is more than worth the wait.
Once Itsy Bitsy enters the finale, all eight legs finally get moving, propelling the film into an Aliens-esque showdown that left me totally fulfilled. The rest of the film may be too slow-going and heavier on the drama than it should be, but it’s as if Gallo finally lets loose and unleashes spider hell on the viewer. Again, if you’re afraid of spiders, this ending will have you screaming. Images of this thing slowly lowering itself onto a character with mandibles clicking and hissing will haunt my nightmares for the next week.
Itsy Bitsy is an average creepy crawler without many legs to stand on, but with an above average creature design and some pulse-pounding scares, this one is worth an afternoon watch once its (hopefully) streaming.
Itsy Bitsy releases through Shout! Factory on August 30th.
By Matt Konopka