After a long 27 yearlong absence, the Krites are back on the big screen for Critters Attack! The new film, written by Scott Lobdell and directed by Bobby Miller, continues the Critters renaissance that began earlier this year with Syfy’s television series, Critters: A New Binge, (Note: the two projects are completely distinct from one another).
For fans of the franchise, Critters Attack! is apt to be a welcome return for the furballs with giant teeth. Alas, for casual horror audiences, the fifth film suffers from a bland cast of characters, poor pacing and, most significantly, a lack of campy fun.
Let’s begin with franchise regular Dee Wallace. The horror icon returns, but she is playing a new character, Aunt Dee, a bounty hunter with a penchant for cats and state of the art weaponry. Sadly Wallace is not the main character; in fact, Wallace’s role is more of an extended cameo than a supporting character; she disappears for long stretches of time and isn’t given much to do, which only makes you wonder why they didn’t give her more to do. Let this be a lesson to horror revivals: use your horror royalty well!
The protagonist of Critters Attack! is actually Drea (Tashiana Washington), a sushi delivery girl who at the start of the film learns that she has been rejected from prestigious Leroy College for a second time. Drea and her younger brother Phillip (Jaeden Noel) lost their mother in a car accident that Drea blames herself for and they now live with their Sheriff uncle. The details of her unspectacular life never truly amount to anything in the narrative; her back story exists primarily as an excuse for Drea to be disgruntled about the way she is treated by her friend Mandy (Alex Jeaven), who is quietly superior about being accepted to Leroy when Drea was not.
The plot kicks in when Mandy hooks Drea (and by extension Philip) up with a babysitting gig for one of the faculty members on the admissions council. This puts Drea in charge of Tracy (Ava Preston) and Jake (Jack Fulton) for the duration of the film. On a time-killing hike, the foursome discover a nearly all-white female Krite (you can tell from the eyelashes) who may help them survive as the rest of the town falls prey to an invasion of killer males. Or not…because there are a lot of loose or unresolved ends in this film.
One of the film’s greatest weaknesses is its lack of urgency. For a ninety minute movie, Critters Attack! feels extremely slow. This is due in part because of the repetitive nature of the plot, which frequently sees Drea and the kids travel to a new location seeking help, followed by an attack wherein a secondary character dies, prompting them to move on.
There’s also no objective. Initially, when the phones go down (which somehow also kills all cell service), the group plans to leave town, but the goal quickly changes to simple survival. As a result Critters Attack! frequently feels aimless and kinda dumb as plans are arbitrarily scrapped at a moment’s notice for no discernible reason. This is especially frustrating since there’s an inherent predictability as to where things will go; it is evident how the film will unfold thanks to the opening scenes that introduce Drea’s job at Famous Sushi and the College campus. As an audience we’re often five steps ahead of the characters…until they do something that defies logic for reasons (?)
None of this would be an issue if the characters were fun or if the film acknowledged and embraced its campy potential. Alas, Critters Attack! flubs both of these essential ingredients.
Drea’s personal drama feels inconsequential, particularly the further we get into the film, and none of the other characters’ eccentricities (Jake’s ability to communicate solely by text, Tracy’s smarts or Philip’s love of aliens) amounts to anything that contributes to their survival. On the whole, the entire group is rather bland. Washington is likable enough, but she fails to make Drea a compelling protagonist and her line delivery is surprisingly flat. For example, when Drea commits to staying and fighting the invasion – a moment that should see her character arc come to fruition as she realizes her true potential – it’s a disappointingly muted development. What should be cheer-worthy simply feels meh.
There are flashes of fun to be had, particularly in the last act when Lobdell’s script finally lets the characters fight back, but outside of bits and pieces, the humour is mostly absent. A Critters movie should be hilarious silly fun, but its human characters suck the fun out of the proceedings. Even the recent revamp of Puppet Masters understood the need to compensate for boring human protagonists (in that case with exceedingly gruesome over the top deaths). Too often Critters Attack! feels as though the creative team doesn’t understand what is so appealing about the franchise.
Thankfully the Critters themselves are great. The decision to go with practical effects rather than CGI for the Krites is laudable, and effort is made to make the Critters visually distinctive so that several of them stand out. The simple sight of the creatures speeding by like accelerated tumbleweeds or the moment when the iconic Crittball rolls into sight (and over someone, naturally), is delightful. Many of the kills are off-camera or after the fact, but there’s an undeniable joy seeing the Krites happily chomp down on legs and arms or cackling with bloodied teeth. In one particularly memorable scene, a Park Ranger mistakes a Krite for a Loofah in the shower and winds up with a face full of death.
If only the film featured more moments like this, Critters Attack! would be much more successful and enjoyable to watch. Alas, the combination of bland characters, poor pacing and the lack of campy fun doesn’t offer enough appeal for casual viewers. Critters Attack! is strictly for hardcore fans.
Critters Attack! rolled out for their World premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on July 13, 2019.