BOX OF DE'FRIGHTS

GREMLIN (15)

Director: Ryan Bellgardt

Screenplay: Ryan Bellgardt

Starring: Adam HamptonKristy K. BooneGeoff Barron

Review: David Stephens

Sequel-naming has long ceased being just a case of sticking a number at the end of a title. These days we’re either on first-name terms (“Jason Bourne”) or we add a determiner (“The Final Destination”). Sometimes the title is made plural, like “Aliens” or “Predators”. So going by that rule, “Gremlin” is a prequel or sequel about a solitary Mogwai creating havoc after a midnight feast then? Err … no. This has nothing to do with Joe Dante, Spielberg, or Amblin, and is not an under-the-radar follow-up. This movie is another horror offering from the writer and director of “Army of Frankensteins” (2013), Ryan Bellgardt. A low-budget monster movie, don’t go expecting any singing/dancing “Gizmos” here. This little bastard means business. As it’s now available on VOD in the states and probably the UK in the near future, YGROY shuts the fridge and puts the clocks back to see what this Gremlin has in store for us…

It starts with an aggravated guy pointing a gun at a metal box, whilst a wheel-chair bound women eggs him on. The box is about the size of a bread-bin and has the clockwork appearance of a Lament Configuration contraption from the “Hellraiser” movies. Sure enough as Mr Gunny watches in trepidation, a hole clicks open in the cube and a rat-sized creature crawls out. Greatly resembling a height-restricted and eyeless version of the monster from “Cloverfield”, it bounces around and slays one of its watchers. Post-credits we meet Adam Thatcher (Adam Hampton), his wife Julie (Kristy K. Boone), and their two children. Following an unspecified tragedy which has seemingly fractured the family dynamics, they’re living in the large house owned by Julie’s Grandma. During a difficult day, the guy from the prologue shows up (who turns out to be the uncle) and “gifts” the box to the family. All he’ll say is “you’ll have to give the box to someone you love before the timer runs out” … and promptly scrams. Befuddled the Thatchers (that name still sends shivers down the backs of most of us Brits...) forget about the strange object. But of course, the lid pops open, the creature scuttles out and someone dies … and that’s just the start of their problems.

Keeping with the previous mentions of Joe Dante’s “Gremlins” (1984), remember that scene where Phoebe Cates describes her Father dressing as Santa and dying in the chimney? You were never quite sure whether it was supposed to be emotionally upsetting, or ridiculous and comical. Well … “Gremlin” is sort of like that in some respects. It’s played dead-straight, even though we’re confronted with a squeaky little creature scampering out of a magic box. And that’s something of a blessing and a curse…

For its own part, a least the plot goes its own way and doesn’t rip-off any sources that you may expect (we won’t mention the “G” film any more now). There’s a box with “rules” which starts a little sketchy, but this is embellished with a nice little “Sin City” animated origin in the latter half of the film. And it’s nice that the story has the courage of its own mythos and plays around with the set-up. But it’s never played for laughs or absurdity. Apart from one frank bit of f-bombing from a cop, nobody mocks the situation for easy guffaws or winks at the audience for cheap effect. It all plays out like a genuine horror or monster movie.

What’s also nice is that the narrative points out the seriousness of the threat to the family pretty damned quick. Once the youngest member of the family talks about a “little monster” and the Dad rolls his eyes and calls him a fantasist, you think we’re going to get one of “those” films. But, nope. The pint-sized git leaps out almost immediately of the box and all the tropes of normal family problems have to be pushed to one side. It’s pretty refreshing in that respect. It also means that there’s a nice study of human nature slipped in there, and the conditions of “real love” and responsibility is considered … not too much though, when there’s a vicious little killer on the loose at intermittent stages.

The film is actually surprisingly vicious in stages. If you thought that a small entity wouldn’t be much of a threat, then the body count that this Gremlin leaves behind will be an eye-opener (pun intended for one kill). In fact, there’s one particular killing that’s so relentless in detail and sheer malice that you half expect the victim to wake up from a bad dream or something … but it’s real. So expect some CG body-bursting and graphic wounds here with no suggestion of squeamishness. As far as the special effects go, of course it’s almost all lower-end budget CG. Some of it is ropey, with the tell-tale “sliding” movements over existing footage, but some of it is actually pretty good, especially during the kills and the ambitious climax.

Whilst the deadly serious tone of the narrative works for the most part, you do find yourself hankering for a bit of humour at some point, especially with the particularly grim tone of the latter half (as the soundtrack mopes “Look what you’ve done … no place to run”. Jeez!!) . It also highlights some of the less-than realistic elements on show. The cops do blatant “film-police” things, and don’t even think to bring anyone in for questioning when a person is stabbed in the heart, whilst sleeping in a house-full of suspects. And then there’s the really odd ghoulish incident that caused the family rift, which is so out of left-field and weird, that you wonder if there’s a deleted scene somewhere to explain it better. And couldn’t anybody come up with a better plan than sit in front of the box with a gun? How about two people in love continually passing the box and “resetting the timer”? Just a thought…

But despite the variable quality of some of the aspects of the movie, “Gremlin” still manages to be surprisingly entertaining with some good ideas and moments. The nice amount of gruesome sequences and mean-spiritedness also raises its game, even if you do think that a little more humour wouldn’t go amiss. The plot is intriguing enough to require your full attention, leading into the promising climax, and a slightly too abrupt (and not really explained) ending. It’s still a lot of good fun though with plenty of entertaining stalking and mayhem. Count us in if there’s ever a sequel, as long as it’s not subtitled “The New Batch”…

November 19, 2019

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“Gremlin” does suffer from some variable SFX, performances, and tone. But it does have imaginative and original ideas, and the confidence to create its own mythos, which we dug. It’s also not afraid to get down n’ dirty with some surprisingly grim moments of horror and nastiness. Ignore that title; it’s decent viewing with an after-midnight snack (and booze).
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