Arachnia (2003)

Brett Piper

STARRINGRob Monkiewicz - Sean Pachowski
Irene Joseph - Chandra Weaver
David Bunce - Professor Mugford
Bevin McGraw - Trina
Alexxus Young - Kelly
Don Merriman - Deke
James Aspden - Moses Cobb

Year - 2003

Year - 2.5 Howls Outta 4

The Wolf has a weakness: I'm extremely arachnophobic. That's right. I hate spiders. Small ones, big ones, hairy ones, long-legged ones - they give me the creeps. Whenever I encounter one, I have to kill it or I'll be extremely paranoid about it. I don't even know where it developed from but I just don't like the damn things. It's ironic that my favorite superhero is a guy who was bitten by a radioactive arachnid. Go figure. All I know is that if I'm presented with a spider, I'm gonna freak out.

So while watching the low-budget film, ARACHNIA, I kept wondering how I would deal with encountering giant spiders that will eat you and hatch their eyes inside of you. Honestly, I don't want to know. But at least it was sort of fun watching it on a television screen!

A bunch of people [a pilot (Rob Monkiewicz), a scientist (David Bunce), his sassy assistant (Irene Joseph), a goofball (Don Merriman), and two lesbian friends (Bevin McGraw & Alexxus Young)] crash their plane in the middle of nowhere during a meteor shower. They end up in a cabin by the woods, where an old man (James Aspden) lives. The old man wants them out at first, but after seeing one of the girls naked, he changes his mind. This new level of trust leads the old man to show the group a large dead spider that his grandfather had caught and killed. The group doesn't believe that it's real, until real live [plastic and stop-motion] spiders invade the cabins, trying to off the group one by one. How can this misfit squad defeat these fake-looking spiders?

ARACHNIA is a B-movie to the hilt. Cheesy acting, cheesy dialogue, 50s-throwback special effects, stereotypical characters, and a really ridiculous story are thrown right in your face and don't let up until the very end. Nothing here is taken truly seriously. The actors ham it up as much as they can. And the spiders are so fake-looking that it's actually funny. Anyone expecting an Academy-Award nominee will be truly disappointed. But if you're looking for a decent way to spend 90 minutes, then ARACHNIA is a good bet.

Director Brett Piper, who also wrote this film, knows his horror films. Even with an extremely low budget of probably $500, Piper doesn't do a bad job at all behind the camera. There's very good pacing, the editing is really well-done, and he shows what's important for us to know. Sure, the script isn't the greatest script in the world, but his visual storytelling almost makes up for that. We get a lot of THE EVIL DEAD fast-motion POV through the spiders' eyes [they see in red tint apparently], and Piper deliberately takes pretty much the final act of James Cameron's ALIENS and just replaces it with spiders. Nothing about his direction or script is original, but I wasn't really expecting that from a film called ARACHNIA. So I'm okay with that.

My only problem was his direction during the "CGI" scenes. Or should I say, the stop-motion scenes [done probably by Brent Piper too] that were taken straight out of those 1950 monster movies with giant bugs taking over a town. That's exactly what these spiders look like. While it's not modern looking, I'd rather watch something as cheaply made as this over CGI that looks totally fake as hell [like in that Sci-Fi Network movie, ICE SPIDERS - they looked like video game spiders]. At least these spiders look sort of real. But when the actors have to do scenes with the fake spiders, it looks totally not choreographed. Especially when the actors look higher than where the spiders are and try and fight them off. Doesn't look right and totally gives off this fake look. Maybe that was the point. But if I were a director, I would want those fight scenes to look as believable as possible even under circumstances like these. That was really my only beef concerning the visual portion of the film.

My other beef is with the character development, or lack thereof. All I ask is to identify with one character in any film. I don't care if it's the lead [although I hope it is] or a supporting character - one character to relate to would be nice. These characters are so stereotypical and one-dimensional that you can't really root for them. The two lesbian girls, played by Bevin McGraw and Alexxis Young, were great for the T & A part of the film, but they were extremely annoying whenever they had dialogue. All these did was scream, whine, and take baths. I wouldn't have minded if these spiders had eaten them after they ate each other. And then there was Deke, played by Don Merriman. I don't mind a comic relief character, but this guy was so annoying and so borderline retarded that I wanted him off my screen as quickly as possible. If the spiders didn't kill him, I would have done it. He could have taken his acting down a notch or ten. Then we have the stiff professor, played by David Bunce, who only cared about himself and his next great discovery. The acting by Bunce was more funny than anything, which made me not take him seriously at all. At least he made a decent villain towards the end, which made me happy when he got his just desserts. But other than that, I could have cared less about him.

The only two characters that were most developed compared to the others were Sean (Rob Monkiewicz) and Chandra (Irene Joseph). Sean was the typical hunky pilot, making him the automatic hero. Monkiewicz played the whole thing straight-faced, but it worked for me. He commanded the screen and had some pretty decent scenes, especially the chainsaw fight between him and a giant spider on the roof that reminded me of EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN for some reason. He maybe came off a bit smart for his own good, but at least he acted and looked like a hero. He didn't bother me at all and I thought Monkiewicz did a decent job. And Irene Joseph was just the sassy African-American female lead who took crap from no one and was proud of it. She made me laugh with her no-nonsense attitude, because the other actors reacted with this look of intimidation and fear. Plus, it was nice to see a black woman not be the first one to die or as the comic relief. She was tough and smart, making her a formidable opponent for the spiders and a good partner for Monkiewicz. Plus there seemed to be a long angle forming between the two that never really got to form, but maybe it was better that way for a film like this. I thought both actors did a good job and probably deserve to be in a better, more-budgeted film than this one.

ARACHNIA is not a classic horror film. It's silly and dumb...things a B-movie should be. It's not perfect but it does some good things that makes it pretty watchable and entertaining. I'm sure not everyone will appreciate this one, which is hard for me to recommend it. But if you have some extra money to spare and you want to rent a harmless film, you could do a lot worse than ARACHNIA.

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