Spiders. They’re a universally divisive being. There are some who will run and scream if they see one. Those who will stomp or smack a spider if one goes near them. There are also gentle souls who carefully avoid them and those who are fascinated with them. Cinematically, there aren’t many Charlottes out there that are worthy of a gentle brushing away or a bit of fascination. In horror, there are no spiders who can be carefully avoided and the spider in Micah Gallo’s Itsy Bitsy is no exception. It’s huge, it’s vengeful, and it packs a bite that puts black widow’s to shame. But does Itsy Bitsy’s bite make an impact, or does it literally set necrosis to your brain?
Itsy Bitsy begins with a backstory on our titular arachnid. We see a tribe prepare a vessel that will hold the creature but, of course, there would be no movie if someone didn’t ruin the tribe’s ceremony, and steal the vessel for selfish reasons. Cut to: America, where Kara (Elizabeth Roberts) has accepted a job as caretaker a for an elderly man named Walter (Bruce Davidson). Along with her are her two children, Cambria (Chloe Perrin) and Jesse (Arman Darbo). Walter’s estranged adopted son (Treva Etienne) was a part of the group that stole the vessel from the tribe. His intentions are to give it to Walter, a collector of rare and illegal artifacts. His sop is that Walter will break it open, setting the creature free to have its way with Walter as an act of revenge for the loss of his mother. Soon enough, the vessel is broken, and the spider is set free.
You might expect to see all sorts of spider related insanity but at its core, Itsy Bitsy is a family drama that zooms in on Kara’s struggle to keep her relationship with her two children afloat while managing her own demons. Kara’s demons come in the form of a pill addiction that she uses to dull the psychological pain of losing her youngest child. Those demons get in the way of her being there for her children as they cook, clean, and set up their new abode all on their own.
While watching, worry began to set in that this would hinder the film. After all, I went in expecting arachnid madness. Yet, the more Kara’s sanity began to drift, the more involved in her story I became. One could say that the children’s nursery rhyme of The Itsy Bitsy Spider could have been a narrative for the ancient spider on the prowl, but instead, it is Kara’s journey that follows the rhyme. We follow it in tandem with her experience. It all starts in the rain and the loss of her youngest child. But does the sun come out, and does Kara crawl back up the deep dark spout?
Don’t worry, there is a fair share of arachnid action. We’re given a few set pieces that amp the tension as well as result in some gooey practical gore that satisfies. The spider itself looks great when practical effects are on full display. It’s kept in the shadows for the majority of the film which works well but the film does steer away from these moments. The family drama keeps the film grounded in as much of a reality as a film about a killer spider can settle in to. The spider has motives and plans for the web that it’s spinning, involving the lore of a spider goddess. Sounds campy, sure, but it never reaches that level.
Director and co-writer Micah Gallo handles that fine line while portraying his characters with great respect. The juxtaposition of the family drama and the spider horror is a mixture that is organically done without being too much of a distraction. His past credits as a visual effects producer for a number of Adam Green films (Hatchet I-III, Frozen) as well a number of other horror films (Chillerama, The Innkeepers, The Quiet Ones) created a great background for the style that he presents in Itsy Bitsy.
“… when the web starts spinning, and Itsy starts Bitsying, there’s some downright satisfying horror”
Elizabeth Roberts puts us in the mind of Kara, and keeps the film on track. There are times where respect isn’t something that you feel she deserves, but the growth and determination that she shares in the third act brings her character together. Academy Award-nominated Bruce Davison gives a subtle and endearing performance as Walter. Pet Semetary’s Denise Crosby adds just a bit more heart to the story as the local sheriff. Arman Darbo (Jesse) and Chloe Perrin (Cambria) filled the quota of the kids with older Darbo giving true preteen angst to rival his mother’s imperfections.
Although Itsy Bitsy was not the film that I thought I was sitting down to watch, it was on that was easy to get caught up in. Granted, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea and the lack of spider antics for surplus dramatic elements may throw some viewers off, but when the web starts spinning, and Itsy starts Bitsying, there’s some downright satisfying horror. It’s definitely one to kickstart a hopefully promising career for Micah Gallo.
Itsy Bitsy will be available in selected theaters and On Demand on August 30th and Shout! Factory will be releasing the Blu-ray October 1. Let us know if your looking forward to Itsy Bitsy on our Twitter, Reddit, or in The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!