Studio: Shout! Studios
Director: Micah Gallo
Writer: Micah Gallo, J. Bryan Dick, Jason Alvino
Producer: Micah Gallo
Stars: Elizabeth Roberts, Bruce Davison, Denise Crosby, Arman Darbo, Chloe Perrin, Treva Etienne, Matty Cardarople, Eileen Dietz
A struggling single mother takes a job with an antique collector whose connection to a spider god’s curse endangers her children.
How many horror movies start with a struggling single mother relocating from the big city to a small town with a cranky kid who persistently pouts about moving? Micah Gallo’s arachno-thriller “Itsy Bitsy” adds its name to that lengthy list, but does so with a creative spin that actually spurs several prongs of the premise instead of arbitrarily recycling a clichéd setup.
Kara just took a job as a live-in nurse to ailing artifact collector Walter Clark. Harrumphing young son Jesse scowls about the arrangement every chance he gets. Little sister Cambria on the other hand, accepts the situation with her characteristically merry charm. This is a much-needed change for Kara. Since the collapse of her marriage following the tragic death of a third child, Kara has anxiously awaited an opportunity for a reset.
Walter could use a fresh face around his house too. His wife and former traveling companion Maggie recently died. Coupled with his debilitating illness, Walter’s treasure hunting days are now far behind him.
They’re not behind his old associate Ahkeeba however. Walter’s wife raised Ahkeeba like a son and, believing her death demands vengeance, he decides to take action against a tribe of idol-worshipping villagers. To show how defiant he is, Ahkeeba steals the cult’s sacred relic, The Black Egg of Maa-Kalaratri, and presents it to Walter as a tribute to Maggie.
Walter is well aware of Maa-Kalaratri’s legend. For centuries, villagers are said to have slaughtered their babies as blood offerings to the vengeful spider-god. Walter doesn’t put much stock in Maa-Kalaratri’s supposed curse until the broken relic releases a large sentient spider. Kara now faces additional challenges as a troubled mother when the creature’s appetite for sacrificial flesh threatens to consume her other two children.
What I appreciate most about “Itsy Bitsy” is that it doesn’t play any part of its plot for laughs. Oversized insect movies, particularly those of the spider variety like “Eight Legged Freaks” or “Big Ass Spider,” usually go for tones of cheeky cheesiness that pair well with “Sharknado” on a Syfy double feature. “Itsy Bitsy” doesn’t include any campy silliness, or any comedy at all really. It opts instead for straight suspense and surprising stakes that put multiple wee ones in real danger.
On the glass half empty side, “Itsy Bitsy’s” seriousness takes the film to places that are too dour for the frights to be “fun.” An inability to reconcile with her toddler son’s death topples heavy dominos for Kara. Guilt creates recurring visions of a car accident with her at the wheel, which inspires desires to steal pain-numbing pills from her employer, in turn putting Kara on an edge where she blows up at Walter and slaps her son in heated frustration. Jesse mostly mopes too, and Walter’s curmudgeonly crustiness overpowers the fleeting flash of grand-fatherliness shown when he pours exposition into Jesse’s ear. There’s a lot of weighty material here about grief, addiction, unresolved anger, and fractured family ties for a movie anchored around a killer spider.
Cambria at least balances her brother’s consistently crossed arms with childlike cheerfulness. Young actress Chloe Perrin brings a high cuteness factor to her character, always exhibiting optimism and a smile whether she’s befriending a stray cat or sweetly memorializing a sibling she never knew. Cambria is written like a typical movie kid at that age, but she provides a ray of light in an otherwise dark story.
“Itsy Bitsy’s” screenplay could have used one more draft, maybe three, before rolling camera. The narrative doesn’t tighten emotional underpinnings involving Kara’s redemption or relationships with her children like it should. Jesse takes on too many actions to save his sister that should be assigned to Kara since her arc means to be the main mover of the thematic needle. The climax also slows to a crawl when Kara becomes incapacitated and recovers with the speed of Rip Van Winkle waking from a century-long slumber.
The pieces for a formulaic yet perfectly fine little dramatic thriller are all there. “Itsy Bitsy” just plays them a touch casually without careful consideration for how each beat affects another. More time baking in the creative oven might have added fuller flavor. In its current form, “Itsy Bitsy” contentedly feels “good enough” to go to market with what it has.
Bruce Davison expectedly turns in another reliable supporting role. Denise Crosby is also okay, although her sheriff ends up having next to no impact on anything consequential. Characters are underwritten across the board, yet performances provide as much personality as possible, even though the cast is tasked with playing perpetually frowning people.
Basically, “Itsy Bitsy” isn’t going to win any awards or become anyone’s favorite film. It’s too grim to grab the gusto it needs to stand out without edging into over-the-top outrageousness. But it is professionally produced, features a few intriguing pops, and makes for a decent diversion during a weekend’s entertainment. I suppose “decent” isn’t a desirable adjective that will appear in a back-of-box pull quote. Nevertheless, it fittingly describes “Itsy Bitsy.”
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 55