Thursday 29 August 2019


Children of the 1980's will be well versed in films with tiny monsters running around small town America. On the top end of the scale is Joe Dante's Gremlins, a Spielbergian family horror with cute, marketable furry monsters as well as the hideous ones; the bottom end of the scale occupied by Ghoulies, best remembered for its toilet dwelling monster on the VHS box art. Somewhere in the middle of that scale is the Critters franchise. Not a complete rip off of the spawn of Gizmo, but I think it's fair to say the Crites wouldn't exist without the appearance of Gremlins on the big screen in 1984.

The Critters films existed in a brief bubble between 1986 and 1992, in an era where practical puppetry ruled, just before they were summarily trampled by the CGI dinosaurs that were to come. Now, after a small screen revival at the start of 2019, the Crites are back in film form, with a (mostly) new cast of characters and some interesting developments in the Critters canon.

The film introduces us to Drea (Tashiana Washington), a young woman dreaming of attending Leroy College, the alma mater of her deceased mother, but can't seem to catch a break with the admissions board. Hoping to make herself known, she takes a job as babysitter to one of the professor's children. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, two mysterious objects have crash landed, one containing the Crites as we know them from previous films (and quickly making a meal out of a takeaway delivery boy), the other housing a new, mysterious white creature the Crites seem to be looking for.

There's so much to enjoy about this reboot of the franchise, 27 years after the last big screen instalment. Wisely, they've opted to avoid the introduction of CGI Critters, maintaining the practical puppets that resemble evil little hedgehogs. That may well have been a budgetary decision, but it's worked in the film's favour. Sure, there's times when in the cold light of day the lighting does the look of the puppets no favours at all, but when they're put into darkness (as the previous remote farmhouse, inner city block and, er, outer space settings did), the little beasties look much more menacing.

The filmmakers also know that a Critters film needs to deliver a healthy amount of fun, so the introduction of the (minor spoiler) white Critter Queen, later dubbed Bianca, lends a new element of bizarre world building. She's a character that clearly takes some inspiration from the introduction of the female Gremlin in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (bonus points if you know her name is Greta), standing apart from the almost identikit design of the other (male) puppets. Also, no spoilers for the plot of the film, but it helps that she's kinda badass.

Of course there are also humans in the film, lead by Tashiana Washington's Drea. As a young woman eager to fulfil her dreams whilst also caring for her younger brother Phillip (Jaeden Noel), her drunk uncle Sheriff Lewis (Stephen Jennings) and now professor's kids Trissy & Jake (Ava Preston & Jack Fulton), she's a likeable character that, crucially, you don't immediately want to see get eaten by the Critters.

35 years into the franchise and operating with a low budget, director Bobby Miller should be commended for offering the Critters series a new lease of life. Sure, it's corny, ridiculous and not the most original film you'll see this year, but for nostalgic fans of the original series, this more family friendly iteration is pitched about right, offering some characters you can root for, some you can't wait to see get eaten, and plenty of ridiculous Critter action.

Hey, I managed to get all the way through this review without mentioning the only piece of Critters trivia anyone knows, that Leonardo DiCaprio was in Critters 3! Except for now.



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