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ITSY BITSY ***

Directed by Micah Gallo. Starring Bruce Davison, Elizabeth Roberts, Arman Darbo. Horror, USA 94 minutes, Certificate 15

Released on demand from October 14th

 

Arachnophobes would do well to avoid ITSY BITSY, a creature feature that with a title like that would be expected to provide ample opportunity for scares and chills of the eight legged variety. However, if they were able to steal themselves through the films many glimpses of its scutlling and creepy spider they may find themselves impressed enough by director Micah Gallo’s equal commitment to character drama that he tackles in his debut feature that also manages to hearken back to the creature features of the DTV days of the nineteen eighties and nineties.

 

Primarily though the directors main interest, and biggest selling point, is in delivering a creepy spider terrorising a family in a big house. With Elizabeth Roberts playing Kara, a private nurse and mother to two young children; Jesse and Cambria, played by Arman Darbo and Chloe Perrin, that is exactly what we get when they relocate from New York to the countryside to care for the elderly Walter, Davison. Unfortunately Walter has come into possession of an ancient relic stolen from an African tribe. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the relic was often used for sacrificial ceremonies to the goddess Maa Kalaratri. It is a convoluted setup that takes its time and seems to promise a completely different type of film than we eventually get.

 

In fact once the sizable spider is let loose from the relic this strand of backstory is more or less completely forgotten about. Instead we are treated to a family drama that involves such issues as grief, forgiveness and opioid addiction but with a giant spider lurking in the background. ITSY BITSY is indebted to THE BABADOOK visually and thematically as much as it is to ARACHNOPHOBIA. An odd pairing but thanks mainly to a committed and talented task it is one that works to its advantage. Davison, making a return to the creature feature genre that arguably made his name back in the 70’s with WILLARD, is the most likable character here, a retired archaeologist who subverts the usual cranky old man character stereotype. Darbo at first seems insufferable but soon develops into a more sympathetic and likable figure forgoing the usual cliches of the bratty and rebellious son.

 

Roberts also does well with her portrayal of a pill popping mother struggling with work and more and genre fans may well be pleased in seeing Denise Crosby popping up as the small town sheriff. In fact the films weakest link is the spider itself. When kept to the shadows it is a nicely creepy creature, seen only in glimpses when stretching an oversized leg from under a bed or dangling from the ceiling. The practical effects used for it easily outmatch the CGI, which at first seems to be replicating a stop motion type effect which has a pleasing old school feel but by the films final act settles for generic and unconvincing run of the mill animation that undermines the good work that has been displayed previously.

 

ITSY BITSY proves itself as a decent little potboiler. Its slight plot and over serious tone evened out by its talented cast and the work they put in. Gallo, a first time director who has previously worked in visual effects, proves just as adept with the character based drama here. If he finds a project in the future which can marry his ambitions for juggling such differing tones and genres in the future he may well prove himself as a talent to keep an eye on.

 

Iain MacLeod

 

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