'Itsy Bitsy': Film Review

ITSY BITSY Still 1 - Shout! Studios Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Shout! Studios
Creepy crawly.

Bruce Davison appears in Micah Gallo's horror film about a giant killer spider that terrorizes a single mother and her two children.

To his credit, director Micah Gallo doesn't resort to campy humor or too many cheap jump scares to enliven his indie horror film about a giant killer spider.

To his detriment, director Micah Gallo doesn't resort to campy humor or too many cheap jump scares to enliven his indie horror film about a giant killer spider.

That dichotomy is both the chief virtue and chief flaw of Itsy Bitsy, and if you're puzzled by where the title came from you just didn't have enough fun as a child. The film differs from many similar efforts of its type by infusing character-driven drama into its storyline about an emotionally fragile single mother who moves from the big city with her two young children to serve as a caretaker for an elderly antique dealer. It seems like a good career move, until he breaks an ancient relic that unleashes a giant spider with a literally killer appetite. Gory, violent mayhem ensues, but some viewers, especially horror fans, may feel that the film takes a little too long to get there.

Elizabeth Roberts plays the central role of Kara, a nurse whose marriage ended after the death of her third child. Surreptitiously suffering from opioid addiction, Kara moves with her eight-year-old daughter Cambria (Chloe Perrin) and 13-year-old son Jesse (Arman Darbo) to the country, where they live in the guest house of her new employer Walter (Bruce Davison), who suffers from multiple sclerosis.  

For a good chunk of its running time, the film concentrates on family drama issues, such as Kara struggling to adjust to her new situation while attracting the concern of the town's savvy sheriff (Denise Crosby, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ray Donovan) and Jesse's growing friendship with Walter, who becomes a mentor to the young boy. But the unexpected arrival of Akiba (Treva Etienne), Walter's former associate who gifts him with the fateful relic, fuels the horror mechanics into motion.

Filmmaker Gallo displays some keen instincts for the genre. There's a terrifically creepy opening credit sequence involving primitive tribespeople, an element that also figures later in the storyline. And the spider creature is rendered not with CGI, but rather practical effects (Dan Rebert, whose credits include James Gunn's Slither, supervised the special effects). The results aren't exactly fully convincing, but they provide a welcome old-school element.

But the writer-director's intent on delivering realistic drama along with scares ultimately proves counterproductive. It's hard to take Kara's drug addiction plight seriously, after all, when there's the threat of a giant spider looming over the proceedings. While it wasn't necessary to go for the wacky laughs of something like 2002's Eight-Legged Freaks, a little more humor would have been welcome.

Still, Itsy Bitsy works well enough on its own terms, providing some genuine jolts and benefiting from the excellent performances. Roberts delivers a strong, emotionally complex turn as the troubled mom, and Perrin and Darbo are very natural and sympathetic as the children in peril. And while the ever-reliable Davison certainly deserves more prestigious projects at this point in his lengthy career, it's a genuine treat to see him returning to the genre that proved so beneficial to him nearly a half-century ago in the 1971 cult classic Willard. Spoiler alert: his character here doesn't fare any better when it comes to coping with the animal kingdom.

Production: Strange Vision, Throughline Films
Cast: Elizabeth Roberts, Bruce Davison, Denise Crosby, Arman Darbo, Chloe Perrin, Treva Etienne
Director-producer: Micah Gallo
Screenwriters: Micah Gallo, J. Bryan Dick, Jason Alvino
Executive producers: Cory Neal, Geno Tazioli, Adam W. Rosen, Brandon K. Hogan, Jonathan Helmuth, Tyler A. Hawes
Director of photography: Marcos Durian
Production designers: Brittany Gutheim, John Torres
Editor: Matt Latham
Composers: Garry Schyman, Frederik Wiedmann
Costume designer: Rosalyn Isidro

94 minutes