Few can deny that 2013 became a rather definitive year for the disaster film subgenre, as the zeitgeist has been inundated with Syfy’s Sharknado and the peak of intentionally ridiculous, Z-movie cheese. In that sense, a number of cheap, knockoff films of their own have begun to show their face, but all of which, Sharknado included, lack the charm and earnestness of the cult films they were inspired by. There’s an absence of the genuine fun that was on-screen during the days of Toho and Corman in these “mockbusters” and “schlockbusters”, and the obligatory social message of the genre has become a glaring shoehorn as these films dive further and further into tasteless absurdity. However, these elements have not been completely forgotten as a refreshing and worthy addition to the faltering genre, Mike Mendez’s Big Ass Spider, out on VOD and in theaters now from Epic Pictures, hits the scene in a hilarious, engaging way.
By keeping it’s tongue firmly planted in cheek while never disrespecting the material at hand, Big Ass Spider is the quintessential American giant spider film, holding the spirit of ’50s radioactivity scare monster movies hostage with the mindset of a mischievous child. The film follows a charismatic and bravado-laden exterminator and a loyal security guard as they take on the biggest job of their life: a genetically altered spider, which grows by the minute as it wreaks havoc throughout LA. Big Ass Spider may have a thick layer of satire within it’s self-reflective perspective, but make no mistake: the film’s appeal lies mainly in its devotion to its characters and their reactions to the situation rather than poking fun at the situation itself. In fact, in this sense, the film also allows the spider to become a character unto itself rather than just a brainless killing organism, and adds further gravity to the situation in terms of the raising stakes and grounding the film in order to keep the performances from going too far over the top.
Of course, as an independently produced creature feature, the CGI is sometimes indicative of the budget, but more-or-less, the fluidity of the spider’s motion is consistent and the exterior shell of the creature sometimes looks amazing throughout the film. Otherwise, director Mike Mendez does a great job of visually keeping the film interesting, from the rather wonderful slow motion opening sequence set to a cover of Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” to the first-person attack on the spider, reminiscent of the swarm encounter from Aliens. Mendez and cinematographer Benji Bakshi add a glossy composition to the film, keeping all the shots looking sleek and warm whilst also beneficial to the CGI and actors alike. Ceiri Torjussen’s score is also incredibly effective, adding the perfect mix of campy grandiosity and tangible realization to compliment every turn in the story.
As one may guess, the film relies heavily on the strength of the performances throughout, and luckily, Mendez is able to pull the best from his enthusiastic and committed cast. Greg Grunberg and Lombardo Boyar are incredibly fantastic in their roles as the two leads, pulling off a natural rapport that’s delightfully irreverent as well as tonally simpatico; it’s no wonder why the filmmakers are looking into sequels when the chemistry presented feels instantaneously infectious. Clare Kramer is also great in her role, adding a down-to-earth dimension to a character that’s stereotypically underserved as eye-candy in this particular genre. Of course, it’d be criminal not to mention the great Ray Wise and Patrick Bauchau who add their own wonderfully straightlaced performances which relish the conventions of the genre, and a hysterical cameo from the one and only Lin Shaye.
In essence, Big Ass Spider is the giant monster movie that the subgenre desperately needed; a reminder that when fun is to be had with the concept and the cast, fun should be had in the biggest way possible. By never taking itself too seriously and yet never falling into the world of parody, Big Ass Spider is a horror comedy that never egregiously chooses sides, existing on both planes as a wonderful resuscitation on a previously overbeaten dead horse. Grunberg, Boyar and company are all top notch, understanding exactly what the story and universe that they’re working with exists as, thanks to a focused direction from the lighthearted Mendez. As long as the aptness of the title doesn’t dissuade you, Big Ass Spider is an old-fashioned, fun-loving excursion into the extraordinary that’ll hopefully spin its web for more adventures in the future.