Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Ryan Bellgardt
Writer: Ryan Bellgardt
Producer: Ryan Bellgardt, Josh McKamie, Andy Swanson, Chris Hoyt
Stars: Adam Hampton, Kristy K. Boone, Catcher Stair, Michael Page, Katie Burgess, Mike Waugh, Caleb Milby, Kyle Pennington, Connie Franklin, Rachael Messer, Vicki Wilcox
A mystical box containing a murderous monster forces its owner to pass a curse on to loved ones or risk horrible death.
If it added a dollop of unnecessary nudity, virtually required for maximum distribution appeal back in the day, and had a 1990s production date, “Gremlin” could find a home on a Blockbuster Video shelf alongside Full Moon’s slate of likeminded fare. That is to say “Gremlin” is a mini-monster B-movie not soon to knock anyone out of his/her Nikes. Yet it possesses a modicum of DTV charm capable of stroking a sweet spot for that time when a passable premise and a questionable creature were enough to warrant forking over three dollars for a weekend rental.
James has a small box with a big problem. Inside the box is a dangerous gremlin capable of slashing the throats or puncturing the stomachs of anyone connected to its owner. The creature’s curse can’t be broken, but it can be passed on by gifting the box to someone you love.
James reasons that his elderly mother Mary is close to death anyway, so he presents the box to her with an implicit instruction to give it away as soon as she can. Little does James know that his niece Julie just moved into Mary’s house with her cheating husband Adam, rebellious teen daughter Anna, and young son Charlie. James assumed he was only risking one life. Turns out he is endangering at least four more.
The haunted hot potato with mystical properties makes its way around the Thatcher household and bodies begin dropping. Police start sniffing around, but Adam knows better than to tell them the truth. What Adam doesn’t know is what to do about the box. Bash it, throw it, lose it in a lake, the box somehow makes its way back to his hands. If he doesn’t decide to follow the directions about paying the evil forward, Adam may lose all of his loved ones just the same.
With a somewhat schlocky setup and several low-grade production values, more eyes will roll with incredulity at “Gremlin” than will be widened by pleasant surprise. But whether it is worth a recommendation or not, the truth of the matter is “Gremlin” is one of the better-produced indies on the micro-horror market.
Camerawork is straightforward, though it isn’t a lazy point, shoot, and move on style. The film uses professional equipment, not simply reflected sun or whatever practical bulbs happened to be there to light the set. Speaking of the set, the spacious home where most of the movie takes place looks like a rented location, as opposed to an available house belonging to someone on the crew.
If that sounds like I’m setting a low bar to give “Gremlin” credit for merely fulfilling the basics, it’s not me. The low bar is set by poorer peers who are content to make a movie with only the second half of each sentence above.
“Gremlin” earns adequate grades in most categories until it confuses Act Two for Act One, putting a bulk of exposition into a midsection that gets too talky for its own good. While seemingly stalling for time, the movie takes the momentum of a fairly fast-paced start and slows it to sloth speed so someone can have a heart-to-heart confessional with a dead body, when it is way too late for two-way character development.
The script also starts spinning in circles by repeating previous beats. When Adam runs out of ideas for how to combat the creature, he returns to the top of his list only for another attempt to not work out the second time either. Then there are exchanges such as this:
- Character A suggests giving the box to Character B.
- Character C says absolutely not.
- C later has a change of heart and agrees that A should give the box to B.
- This time, A has second thoughts and elects to not give the box to B.
- A eventually flips positions once more and decides to give the box to B only to briefly hesitate yet again.
More purpose to the plot would lift “Gremlin” out of these uninteresting wheel spins. A firmer handle on its own fiction, which isn’t fully figured out by the film’s end, is another feather missing from the movie’s cap. That empty band is the difference between “Gremlin” being acceptable based on respectable technical merit and earning a Charles Band achievement trophy for home video creature feature entertainment, which it narrowly misses.
With better acting, particularly from the people playing the two parents, and a slyer streak to its sense of humor, which only exists in two or three one-off jokes, “Gremlin” could play in a Saturday night slot on Syfy. The titular CGI creature can’t compete with a “Jurassic World” raptor of course, but he’d fare fine against whatever shark/beast hybrid Jaleel White and Deborah Gibson have on their next “so bad it’s good” fight card.
That sentiment sums up “Gremlin” in a nutshell. It may not rate against mid-range movies or even “Sharknado” (review here). But I’d take it over “Tsunambee,” “Leprechaun: Origins” (review here), or whatever subpar similar movie might be a direct competitor in its weight class.
Review Score: 50