Review by Daniel Lima
There are few greater joys in this world than a movie about a big monster. A staple of low budget filmmaking for decades, the accessibility of modern 3D rendering has led to a new explosion in the genre, particularly in Asian cinemas. The Thai centipede horror Creepy Crawly adds in the added wrinkle of a pandemic-era setting. While it delivers some genre thrills, an uneven script prevents the film from capitalizing on its strengths.
Three months into the COVID-19 quarantine, a group of people reentering the country are forced to quarantine at a hotel. Unbeknownst to them, an infestation of centipedes is merely a symptom of an ancient evil. The travelers are forced to work together to overcome the demon and the horde that came with it.
Much of the film is spent on the human characters and their own personal dramas. One is a vlogger who is battling a rare blood disease, another an angry young martial artist who refuses to speak to his mute father, and then there’s the hotel’s sleazy manager who will go to any length to ensure his business stays open. The actors are all perfectly serviceable in their roles, but to say the concerns of the characters are far less interesting than the demon centipede swarm is a massive understatement. That this often maudlin material takes up so much screen time makes it especially aggravating.
Setting the film at the start of the public response to COVID-19 is a deliberate choice, but a puzzling one. Much is made over the stringent safety protocols, and how badly this hotel needs the revenue of its quarantined guests to stay afloat. Beyond those superficial embellishments, however, there’s no reason this movie couldn’t have taken place at any time. The furthest it goes is playing into the paranoia in the air, a note that doesn’t necessarily require. While it’s easy to see the appeal of placing a horror film in this universally horrifying context, this particular film is little served by it.
Of course, it's not unheard of for a creature feature to suffer from a lackluster script, only to make up for it when the monsters show up. When Creepy Crawly finally lets loose — fifty minutes into a ninety-minute movie — it does impress. The centipedes all look incredibly convincing for computer-generated creations, as unnerving a sight as they would be in real life. The monster behind them is also a CG construct: a grotesque mass of flesh and chitin that doesn’t fail to astonish. The camerawork is clear and competent, if a bit uninspired, and there’s a propulsive sense of momentum to the third act that would have been sorely welcome in everything leading up to it.
Even so, it’s hard to watch the CG-driven chaos and not think of the monster movies of yesteryear. Whether the many unique and fully articulated models of Ticks, the dogs in cheap rags of The Killer Shrews, or even the many gorillas played by the likes of Ray “Crash” Corrigan and George Barrows, there is a power and magic to having a real, tangible, physical presence for the heroes to go up against. No matter how much attention to detail there is, unless you have significant resources and the carte blanche to use them, there’s no way for CGI to possess that same weight as even the shaggiest and most low-rent practical effects.
With that in mind, by the standards of today, Creepy Crawly is a middling effort. As well-realized as the creatures and set pieces are, their impact is bogged down by the airless, tedious character drama that precedes them. There are certainly worse ways to spend an hour and a half, but if one is in the mood for this particular brand of horror, they might be better served reaching backwards than for this film.
Creepy Crawly is now on VOD.