MARCH 25, 2013
With no new releases since 2011, it seems the Maneater series of films is kaput, which is... well, not a SHAME, but somewhere between a shame and a blessing. It's a thing that exists, I guess. It only took about 6 minutes of In A Spider's Web for me to remember why I haven't watched any of them for a while, but I've enjoyed a couple of them, and admire their dedication to killer animal movies in this found footage/possession horror movie obsessed world. Then again, these are the sort of movies I won't miss much when the site is done, so I guess if they were still pumping em out I wouldn't have seen them anyway.
To be fair, this was only their second production, so they hadn't quite gotten their formula "right" yet, perfected (for lack of a better word) in stuff like Sea Beast and High Plains Invaders, movies that weren't necessarily good but better than the average Syfy movie, which is probably all they need to be. To quote the drunken school board guys from Community: "It's better than good... it's good ENOUGH." - that seems to be the level of ambition we're talking about here, so I judge them on a sliding scale. However, Spider's Web just doesn't measure up, and it's not even the writer's fault - it was seemingly written for a much bigger budget, and the producers/director just took shortcuts rather than make it something more manageable.
For starters, the effects are HORRID. I mean sub-Full Moon level bad. Other Maneater productions opted to use real animals and clever editing to have them attack, rather than use CGI or whatever, but it's easier to train a tiger than a spider, I guess. So while you see real spiders in a few shots, whenever they do anything we are treated to some of the worst CGI I've seen in quite some time, particularly in the climax when hundreds of the things "swarm" over a character, who writhes around in agony as the spiders that are supposedly climbing over him move in opposite directions. And that STILL looks better than the one giant spider we see, which I'd say looked like a PS1 game cut-scene but I don't want to insult 1996. There are also a couple of toys on strings every now and then, presumably so we can say "at least it's not the CGI again..." (and the poor computer FX aren't limited to spiders either - someone falls into a pit and it looks slightly more fake than the kids on the roller coaster in Alice Cooper's "Hey Stoopid" video), making me long for the real ones that didn't actually do anything.
The production team did a pretty good job on the webbing though; I'll give it that much. At one point our heroes even cross a bridge of the stuff, and it looked pretty nifty, as do the cocoons a few of them get trapped within. Speaking of which, I know I usually applaud grim endings, but what the hell did that one poor bastard do to deserve his fate at the end? They even cut to him, paralyzed and scared out of his mind, as if he was the film's human villain and we're supposed to cheer for his impending fate. I could see if he went out a hero or something, but he gets left behind and the other male is like "We will come back for you!" and that apparently doesn't happen. Maybe I missed something - did he eat a baby or something at one point?
The real human villain is Lance Henriksen, as a local witch doctor who at first appears to be helping our group after one of them is bit, but proves to be insane and villainous, as Lance Henriksen characters often do. He's as great as always, and it made me wish that the spiders were just a macguffin that would be phased out entirely, since even the best CGI in the world can't match the power of Lance having a great time and chewing scenery (or a spider! He eats one!). Thankfully, there ARE long stretches where he's the focus, but not enough to forgive the movie's unrelenting cheapness or largely bland/unlikeable group of protagonists. I kind of liked the main girl, but only because the actress (Emma Catherwood) was appealing - not so much her character. I did appreciate that the local police official was actually kind of helpful and not corrupt, a rarity for this sort of thing.
Also, it's a killer spider movie, sure, but there's more going on - rituals and organ harvesting, namely. It may reduce the amount of giant spider action, but considering how bad that stuff looks, they were right to find other avenues to provide the horror. Indeed, I wish I saw this sort of thing more often, with the monster being a pawn but also doing whatever the hell it likes without choosing sides. In movies with actual production value (not this one) it can actually be a lot of fun if done correctly, not to mention give you the best of both worlds: you can root for the protagonists when faced with the spider, but allow your bloodlust to be sated when it goes after one of the human villains. Well, as much as it can be when the movie is apparently made for TV and thus has no gore or even real violence - just writhing around as spiders close in and then a fade or cut. Lame. Someone take the script and do this movie right! I suspect it can be at least as enjoyable as a Deep Blue Sea or Anaconda if they actually had some money and more than two likable actors in the thing. Hire the same webbing guys though.
What say you?