October sees the DVD release of Gremlin, a monster movie, set in modern-day America. It follows the harrowing ordeal of a family who comes into possession of a mysterious box that contains a deadly creature that systematically kills without mercy. The box in question is an ancient artifact that imprisons a rather angry and tiny little deity. This petite killer looks like a mash-up of a Ray Harryhausen monster and a stick insect, but don’t let looks deceive you, this little bug is an adept killing machine. Why would a nice family want to bring such a dangerous item into their home? I hear you ask. Well here is the catch – The only way to get rid of the box is to give it to someone you truly love. Unfortunately, the box has a timer on it, and when time runs out it releases the bug and inevitably someone you love dies. The bug will then return to the box until the dial counts down again, and so on and so on until everyone you love, including yourself, is dead.
The premise of Gremlin is entertaining enough, not particularly original nor believable, but then this is a monster movie and requires the viewer to have an open mind. The film starts out promisingly – a tense encounter with the monster from the off, and the blood flows. A man and his wife are in possession of the box and despite their feeble attempts of self-preservation, the man ends up alone and in search of someone to pass the cursed box onto. The unfortunate poor recipient ends up being the man’s elderly mother. Unbeknownst to the man, his nephew and young family happen to be staying at his mother’s house at the time. The old woman then proceeds to pass the gift on to her grandson and the action starts for real. Each time the dial on the box counts down, the little door opens and the monster emerges to slay another family member. Can they survive? Can they find someone else to pass the box onto? Will we care? Well, the simple answer is no, you really won’t.
One of the main problems with this film, and there are many, is that the viewer never really gets to care about the family. Whether it’s the father who’s having an affair, the young rebellious daughter who’s just found out she’s pregnant, the young boy who struggles with reality, or the arsehole uncle who gave them the box in the first place, we never really get the chance to care about any of them. Everything happens so quickly and the characters are all just 2 dimensional, and therefore you don’t really care when one of them dies. We don’t need to know the ins-and-outs of every character’s personal life, it’s irrelevant when a poorly animated CGI bug is trying to kill you. This leads me onto what, in my opinion, is the biggest flaw with this movie – the acting.
As I said earlier, the story isn’t that bad, certainly not enough to condemn the movie. However, the script could have been a masterpiece and the film still would have bombed because the acting in Gremlin is atrocious. Not to say that it’s the worst I’ve seen, but it is very, very poor. Remember those video games of the 1990’s which included real-life action video sequences such as Phantasmagoria or The 13th Guest? well, that’s what watching Gremlin feels like. At first, the wooden, emotionless performances are almost forgivable, but as the story goes on and we reach what should be very emotional scenes of despair and heartache, the audience is left wondering whether anyone in this family really gives a damn about each other at all. Not one of the actors delivers an even half-decent performance. The acting is completely devoid of all emotion and at points, it literally feels like they are reading straight from a teleprompter.
Being transported into this type of monster movie world is a hard enough job to do convincingly, but if you fail to convey emotion, if you fail to connect to the audience, then the audience never engages with the danger and never really feel scared. There has, over the last few years, been a surge in new b-movie monster films, some good and some not so good, but what makes most of them palatable is that they know exactly what they are and tend to play it tongue-in-cheek. Gremlin takes itself seriously and you just can’t-do that convincingly without any emotion.
The biggest shame of Gremlin is that it could have been so much more. The behind-the-scenes team of Josh McKamie, Ryan Bellgardt, and Andy Swanson have worked together numerous times on similar projects such as Army Of Frankensteins (2013) and The Jurassic Games (2018), and I want to believe that they all bring elements that one day will spell success for them on a bigger scale. In fact, between their efforts, some good, solid cinematography and the quite impressive musical talents of David Stone Hamilton, they produced an adequate visual experience. But it will always come back to the fact that even the best movies can be ruined by poor acting, and this time it just didn’t work in their favor. What we are left with is a predictable, emotionless, monster movie that belongs in the bargain bin.