The poster for Micah Gallo’s feature-length debut, Itsy Bitsy, is reminiscent of 80s VHS horror tapes, but the film itself is far from it — the woman on the poster doesn’t even appear in the film. The plot, however, still sounds like it was pulled right out of the era, as a giant spider terrorizes a single mother and her two children. With arachnophobia being one of the most common phobias, it’s surprising that more horror films don’t tap into this.
Kara Spencer (Elizabeth Roberts) relocates from the big city to the quiet countryside with her two children, 13-year-old Jesse (Arman Darbo) and 8-year-old Cambria (Chloe Perrin). They move onto the property of Walter Clark (Bruce Davison), an elderly man with multiple sclerosis, so Kara can work as his private nurse. Walter collects ancient artifacts that are dowsed in mythology, all of which clutter his home. Most of the relics would be better off locked away in the Warrens’ Occult Museum where no one can touch them.
As it turns out, the itsy bitsy spider has more sinister origins than the popular nursery rhyme, which are set up in the film’s cold open. Before Kara arrives, Walter receives an unwanted gift from his old associate, Ahkeeba (Treva Etienne): an egg-shaped relic that he stole in the film’s opening scene. After the egg breaks, it unleashes an ancient curse: an arachnid the size of a small dog.
Although the critter is introduced to us after the first twenty minutes, the majority of the film focuses on the characters’ family drama. We learn that Kara’s drug problem caused her to lose her third child in a car accident, and she continues to struggle with her addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder throughout the film. Jesse also struggles with the heavy responsibility of taking care of his younger sister. The family drama is often compelling, but its relevance to the ancient threat is non-existent, leaving the two narratives to feel unbalanced and the film as a whole a little hollow.
Before the final showroom, the arachnid fritters around in the background, tending to normal spider antics — laying eggs and watching from hidden places. At first, less is more works to great effect, but it’s a wonder no one notices such a large presence lurking so close by. Gallo has a background in visual effects (Hatchet, The Innkeepers) which allows him and his team to work together to create a convincing creature — one that shines through in certain shots paired with an eerie atmosphere.
Itsy Bitsy keeps arachnophobia alive and well with certain scenes designed to make your hair stand-up — Cambria touching the gold spider eggs she finds in her dollhouse, mistaking them for jewels, is a stand-out. The film tackles grief and addiction well, with some rewarding gore towards the end, but the way it handles its plot is a little messy. Itsy Bitsy is nothing more than a bog-standard creature feature, but it certainly has its fun.
Itsy Bitsy is already available on US digital platforms. It will be available on Sky Store, iTunes and UK digital platforms from October 14th.