★★★★ out of ★★★★★
It’s time to pick on the arachnophobes again.
Directed by Micah Gallo.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a good spider movie to wig out our arachnophobic friends. This one comes to us from the Popcorn Frights Film Festival in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida where it just had its very successful world premiere showing.
Not only does Itsy Bitsy feature a great looking creepy crawly, but it backs up its carapaced cutie with a well thought out legend; giving her a bit more psychological weight than she’d have if the director had just been throwing a big spider at the actors.
This is Micah Gallo’s directorial debut feature film, though he’s been working around films for at least a decade and a half. He’s spent most of his time in the visual effects/post-production fields and it shows. The decision to use practical effects for the spider in Itsy Bitsy was, hands down, the best thing he could’ve done.
With the help of a quick $49,500 from Kickstarter to flesh out the Itsy Bitsy visual effects and sound production budgets everything came together. Gallo was able to rope in special effects master Dan Rebert to handle the creature effects and model building. Dan was both creature effects designer and creature effects supervisor for James Gunn’s fantastic creature feature, Slither (2006), which is pretty much the only thing he’d need on his resumé.
The story follows single mom, Kara Spencer [Elizabeth Roberts; Old Fashioned (2014)], who’s trying to hold things together with her two kids as she struggles with opioid dependence and grieves the loss of her third and youngest child. She’s recently lost her nursing job at a hospital and has taken employment as a private caregiver to an affluent antiques dealer suffering from multiple sclerosis.
The antiques dealer, Walter Clark [Bruce Davison; X-Men (2000)], has his good days and his bad days. Good days like forming a bond with Kara’s thirteen year old son, Jesse [Arman Darbo; And Then I Go (2017)], when he shows an interest in antiquities. Bad days like having a former associate show up with a holy artifact from a primitive tribe as a gift and then having him smash it in a fit of rage — releasing a hitherto unknown species of giant cave spider into the house. Oopsie.
The acting is better than most when it comes to indie horror movies. Bruce Davison was a bit stiff in some scenes, but he warmed right up and did a good job. Truth be told, Elizabeth Roberts was tough to cheer for as the mom on the road to opioid addiction, but I suppose that was the point. The movie is as much about a grieving mother fighting to pull herself and her family back from the brink as it is about a giant spider getting all bitey.
However, the award for Scene Stealer In Chief goes to young Arman Darbo. No question. His ability to adjust the texture of his performance depending on who he’s interacting with was a thing of beauty. Softer and nurturing when talking with his younger sister, Cambria [Chloe Perrin; Jurassic World (2015)], rebellious and frustrated when dealing with his mom, respectful and curious in his scenes with Bruce Davison. That’s a kid whose career will be worth keeping an eye on.
Cinematography was well done, partnering with the score to ratchet up the tension. There were also some fun, “spider-view” angles in some scenes that kept things interesting. For some reason, they opted to use a sped up film effect in one spider scene involving a cat which kinda broke the illusion, but otherwise the visuals were solid.
As a bit of a departure for me, I’ve got to single out Matt Latham for his editing work on Itsy Bitsy. The editing overall was professional and seamless as one would hope. However, there was one sequence that really stood out. Antiquities dealer, Walter, was relating the legend of the big ol’ spider to young Jesse. Intermixed with the shots of Bruce Davison and Arman Darbo sitting at a desk were scenes of the ancient tribe depicting aspects of the monologue. Movies that build up their own mythology are always stronger at their core, but it’s rare that telling of the legend is so well done. Kudos!
While there were some nits that could be picked they were easy to ignore. Itsy Bitsy is a great creature feature grounded by its practical effects and wonderful cast. If you have the chance, this is definitely a must-see.
You’re not scared of a little spider, are you?
Itsy Bitsy will have a limited theater release starting August 30th. It will also be available for streaming at the same time. If we hear of any other screenings, we’ll make sure to let you know.
Review by Robert Zilbauer.