Fantasia 2019: Critters Attack – Nostalgia Is Not Your Friend

Critters--01/21/2019--Marcos Cruz / 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Critters–01/21/2019–Marcos Cruz / 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

By Kenny Hedges

We are a nation united by a single, pervasive illness, and that illness is nostalgia.

I trace it back to VH1’s I Love the 80s, a ten-episode show that ran around the dawn of the millenium in which pundits and low-rent comedians talked about fads, trendsideos and cinema of the decade, but that’s just this generation. The previous generation would relish memories of Woodstock and free love – never once remember the rapes that occurred during that famous concert. We, too, overlook the horrors of the Reagan administration and the cocaine.

I love the 80s beget I love the 90s. I love the 90s beget I love the 00s. So we continue to live in the past rather than confront the present. And somewhere in there, Critters happened.

The wake of the Steven Speilberg-produced hit Gremlins saw a lot of knockoffs, but few were as well-known as Critters. Original director Steven Herek disputes that it was a ripoff, claiming the script was written before Gremlins and reworked to avoid similarities, but the overall formula was in place: little furry things with teeth equaled money.

So how does one begin to review a film whose sole purpose is to service fans? If you’re a fan, you’ll get a kick out of it. But don’t expect Critters Attack! to win over any converts.

Within two minutes of screentime, the furballs have crash-landed in Anytown, USA and devoured a sushi delivery boy. His co-worker Drea (Tashiana Washington), a teen with college ambition, agrees to babysit the children of someone on the admissions board the following day. Meanwhile, a bounty hunter simply known as Aunt Dee (Dee Wallace, in a role different from the one she played in the original film) tracks the little crites and begins hunting them down.

And that’s pretty much it. What’s astonishing and somewhat disappointing is how little ambition this sequel/reboot has. And that extends to the characters as well; Drea’s dream isn’t to leave smalltown America for bigger and better things, merely the local University. There’s some quaint charm that goes along with how small-scale everything is, but one still feels a “been there, done that” aftertaste.

It doesn’t help that the characters all have quirks, not traits (a bird-watching ranger, a teen who only communicates through text messanging, an outdoorsman with a youtube channel). And they have a strange adherence to authority in times of crisis. When trying to radio for help, rather than even consider breaking a door down, they go on a needless and ultimately fatal quest for keys.

But the nostalgia is there. Dee Wallace’s casting alone is done with a wink and a nod, to the point where she walks on the scene with a souped up Ghostbusters PKE meter and may as well have said, “Hi, I’m Dee Wallace, just passing through.”

Nevertheless, or despite, I found myself actually having fun. Once the critters start running amok on campus, being raked, split in half, blown up or otherwise dispatched, you can’t help but feel giddy. The creature effects are appropriately practical and corny, the gore is equally silly. There are even a few decent site gags, such as a critter hiccuping bubbles after eating a man in the shower (this is especially a nice touch, as the camera doesn’t linger on it or even give it its own shot, it’s just an aside, almost barely noticeable).

Roger Ebert, in his mostly positive review of the first film, noted that it was a film made by people who clearly had fun making it. The same can be said for Critters Attack! If it’s in your wheelhouse, it’s not going to disappoint.

I suppose we’ll get another Ghoulies film any day now…


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