US | 2019 | Directed by Micah Gallo
Logline: A single mother, with her two kids, takes a job looking after a disabled collector of exotic artefacts, including one housing the deadly entity of an ancient legend that escapes and terrorises them all.
Having made a career as an executive producer for a visual effects and digital intermediate company catering for low-budget genre flicks Micah Gallo has ventured out and spent several years making his debut feature, which he co-wrote with Jason Albino and Bryan Dick. It’s an old-fashioned creature feature, that kind of which isn’t made much any more, certainly not made with a serious tone, and using practical effects. For the most part Itsy Bitsy works rather well.
Kara (Elizabeth Roberts) is a single mum, who has worked as a nurse, but was fired due to her addiction to pills. She’s moved from the city with her two children, young teen Jesse (Arman Darbo) and kid sister Cambria (Chloe Perrin). There is deep tragedy in the family’s past, an accident that haunts Kara, that she tries to bury with her self-medication. A contract job as a private nurse in the countryside might just be the perfect antidote.
Her new patient, Walter (Bruce Davison), is a collector of exotic and rare artefacts, much of it from the Dark Continent. An African man, Ahkeeba (Treva Etienne), makes an unannounced arrival, bearing a large clay egg inscribed with arcane hieroglyphics. He demands a ritualistic exchange, but Walter refuses. The egg is compromised, and reveals its true cargo: Maa-Kalaratri, the Dark Mother, who once lived in the darkness between the stars, then went on a deadly rampage on her home turf, despite the sacrifices made to her.
Now she is loose in an American home. She’s a massive, malevolent arachnid and she weaves a deadly web.
Whilst the atmosphere and special effects are impressive, Itsy Bitsy is hampered in the first half of the movie by too much focus on the sub-plot of Kara’s strained relationship with Jesse, who is none too happy with her decision making and past behaviour, depicted through fragmented flashback. Roberts and Davison’s performances are okay, nothing special, but the young daughter’s acting is weak, as are the other support roles. So the movie has to rely on the power of its villain, the aforementioned big black eight-legged freak.
Gallo’s background in visual effects meant he was able to garner the talents of a bunch of skilled technicians and puppeteers to bring to life this most horrifying of monsters. Indeed, if you are an arachnophobe, like me, you will find the hairs on your back bristling, your skin crawling, especially during the movie’s third act; the final twenty minutes makes up for the previously sluggish pace.
What Itsy Bitsy lacks in the acting and scripting departments makes up for in edge-of-your-seat spider horror action. We really don’t care about the drug problem when there’s a giant spider lurking in the house, but we do want mum to come to the rescue! Gallo definitely has an eye for mise-en-scene, and there are some great shots and sounds of the spider throughout the movie, nestled, hiding, crawling, oozing spider gunk, baring its terrifying fangs, even some inventive spider-cam. Oh, and though the deaths are few, the gore and blood effects are excellent.
It might have a cutesy title (referencing the archaic nursery rhyme), but check the terrific trailer - which was first released two years ago, as the movie has been in post-production hell - that’ll hook you in. Crowdsourcing apparently got the movie over the finish line, and Gallo is a name to watch. A short post-credits scene suggests an altogether more frightening scenario for a possible sequel. If that eventuates, I hope Gallo delivers a better screenplay, and elicits more believable performances, his vision demands it.