12/28/11

Spiderhole (2010): Don't Pop A Squat; It Might Pop Back

After all the holiday fare of the last month, I felt like looking at a film that was far removed from seasonal tidings, and I couldn't have got much further removed. Devoid of any kind of joy, including perhaps enjoyment, 2010's Spiderhole definitely will not have sugar plums dancing in your head. It may have visions of Saw tapping about though. By definition, a spider hole either refers to the home of a trapdoor spider or a military foxhole big enough for one, such as the one Saddam Hussein was famously caught inside. I assume that the writers meant to inspire images of the arachnid and not the infamous last stand of the Iraqi dictator. I have to assume they went with the inspired title instead of the more direct Dead Squatters because they didn't want people to think their film was about zombies pooping in the woods. In this case, perhaps the unwanted attention might have been a good thing.

British art school students Molly, Zoe, Luke, and Toby (Emma Griffiths Malin, Amy Noble, Ruben-Henry Biggs, George Maguire) are tired of paying rent and utilities and the like.  Instead they decide to find somewhere to squat, essentially take over an unoccupied building and declare residency (a feat which is apparently fairly easy to achieve in England), a practice that has fallen out of favor, but once was rife in the London artistic community. Finding an enormous mansion, the four-some move in, get drunk, have sex, and generally don't do a lot to insure their safety in their new home. In the morning, where there had been only wooden doors before, they find steel doors bolted and welded shut. It doesn't take them long to figure out that someone else is in the house. That someone is a crazed doctor with sketchy motives, but a clear desire to remove legs, hands, eyes, and hearts. As the group gets split up and picked off, the survivors begin to realize there is something in the house even worse than the deranged doc.

There is easily as much tension in Spiderhole as you just experienced reading that synopsis. Which is to say, none. With predictable twists and turns (the group turns on each other, one of them almost gets away only to be caught again, they find their fate emotionally devastating), writer-director Daniel Simpson clearly expresses himself as a fan of horror, but instead of breaking new ground, Simpson treads the same water already crossed in films like the aforementioned Saw and Eli Roth's Hostel. The "scares" are so predictable that I amused myself though a good half of the flick by divining what was going to come next. Most of the time, I was right on the money. Though I didn't predict the film's final, throwaway twist, the rest of the film was paint-by-numbers torture pr0n lite. However, the film itself is artfully shot with more than a few flashes of real movie making skill. Simpson, working with experienced cinematographer Vinit Borrison, clearly made some interesting choices, but they weren't enough to save the preposterously trite plot.

With only the four squatters and the villainous doctor to populate the film, thankfully, the acting was Spiderhole's strong suit. Emma Griffiths Malin, who plays the lead role of hypochondriac Molly, is a good grounding force for the film, but like all the other characters, she seems a tad too whiny and annoying to really latch onto. First time actress Amy Noble, who suffers from the same unlikable character, gives the standout performance as Zoe, and I'll admit that it doesn't hurt a bit that she's quite fetching. Ruben-Henry Biggs is infinitely loathe-able as the wishy-washy Luke, and George Maguire revs up his ego to play the de facto group leader, and house picker, Toby. While I think that every actor did as much as they could with what they were given, the problem is that they were all written as unlikable or annoying. In a film like this, I need to give half a crap about the characters or when they get sent off to meet their fate it means diddly. Spiderhole has a whole lot of diddly (squat?) going on.

Spiderhole is making its way to American shores by way of IFC films, which lately has really expanded its buying power in the horror world. A couple of weeks ago I looked at Grave Encounters, also an IFC Films product, and I liked it very much. Spiderhole actually reads at points like a less entertaining, less imaginative version of that film. While I highly support IFC giving first time and indie directors distribution deals, I do think they should keep a tight eye on quality control. I would not have been at all surprised if I found this playing on SyFy, but if I tuned into the channel that claimed to be "Always on, Slightly off" and saw this flick, I'd feel like that "slightly" might need an adjustment up. Spiderhole really misses the mark, and not just with the tired story line. It violates the cardinal rule of horror films. It has to be scary. Even a jaded ol' Bugg like me knows a real scare when he sees one, but as far as I can tell, all the frights in Spiderhole must have bugged out.

Bugg Rating

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