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Some might say it’s a serious marketing flaw in naming your film after something that immediately conjures memories of an already beloved film, though an argument might be made that’s it’s pretty darned smart, after all there are enough comparisons to be made that maybe kinda sorta a lineage could be made. Kinda. At least the title’s are similar.
After a clever setup where we are introduced to a tiny menace, it ends up in the home of architect Adam Thatcher (Adam Hampton), an unhappy husband married to wife Julie (Kristy K. Boone). They have a young son named Charlie (Catcher Stair), who spends most of his time hiding in a cardboard box after his older brother died, and a late teen rebellious daughter Anna (Katie Burgess) who has some secrets of her own. He’s carrying on an affair with a coworker and is pretty much miserable living in the old home of Julie’s grandmother, though that all changes when the gremlin emerges from a curious, ornately-shaped box with a strange countdown leading to an unknown event and starts a horrific murder spree.
Written and directed by Ryan Bellgardt, Gremlin is if anything unafraid to show all its cards, with plenty of visibility given to the creature, a CGI monster about the size of a house cat that looks a little like the beast from Cloverfield, shrunken to 1/24 scale. It scurries about however with some some effective creepiness and at least gives the film some much-needed edge. The only time the movie has any momentum is when the gremlin appears, providing some decent chills as it stalks victims.
That said, the remainder of the film is lacking, a parable perhaps about the consequences of infidelity and a number of other sins per se that fails to connect its own dots, with a story that is far removed from reality while it tries to imagine that it isn’t. Things happen in movies like this all the time that are rarely authentic, but here, nearly everything seems out of place with choices and dialogue that never ring true. Bellgardt dips into some graphic horror with some occasional bloody carnage though not nearly to the excess the genre almost demands at this point, and the film is never as dark as it should be, even as the little beasty racks up a body count.
The main problem is credibility, which falls onto the laps of the actors, all of whom do what they can but are unfortunately incapable of being convincing, the performances stiff and rarely delivering the emotional and proper reaction to anything that is happening. The film is certainly ambitious enough and there are good ideas along the way but the film simply doesn’t have the energy or direction to truly make it fun. It bogs itself down with unnecessary subplots involving a police detective (Kyle Pennington) and has no real sense of scale, especially in a crucial finale that is disappointingly restrictive. Obviously, budgets constrain Bellgardt’s vision, but the story only passively touches on important themes that are never directly connected to the reason there is a Gremlin, it being a curse unrelated to Adam’s situation, and that alone makes his story of no consequence.
Gremlin has a good-looking monster and an telling backstory but with no personality, a flaw that keeps the monster devoid of much interest. The movie itself can’t overcome a number of setbacks that keep the film full of unrealized potential and as such is best left to die hard genre-fans alone. Gremlin is available on VOD July 11.
Movie description: Gremlin is a 2017 horror film about a man who receives a mysterious box containing a terrible secret, a creature that will kill everyone else in his family unless he passes it on to someone he loves to continue its never-ending circulation.
Director(s): Ryan Bellgardt
Actor(s): Adam Hampton, Kristy K. Boone, Geoff Barron