The start of September also marked the start of this year’s online Frightfest film festival. It’s a horror film festival that is personally anticipated every year and, this year, the organization decided to host a physical and digital edition. The personal choice for the first day of the digital event was a monster movie called Crabs! It follows Phillip (Dylan Riley Snyder – Disney’s Kickin’ It) and Maddie (Allie Jennings – Little Women 2018) as they come face-to-face with mutated horseshoe crab monsters that decide to wreak havoc on their small-town during Prom Night. This film is a throwback to 90’s b-movies as well as paying homage to other films like Godzilla vs King Kong and Gremlins. However, the film’s execution is messy.

The two protagonists, Phillip and Maddie, are great. Their dorky but close friendship is believable and brings a lot of the film’s charm. It can also be appreciated for including a disabled lead character; Phillip is wheelchair bound and, before the crabs attack, his story arc involves him creating metal leg braces to help him stand up so he can dance with his date at Prom. On paper, it sounds goofy, but the execution of his arc is really sweet, and one of the film’s strongest aspects. The rest of the cast are good and are there to help progress the plot: Phillip’s older brother Hunter (Bryce Durfee) is a police officer who finds a half-eaten blue whale washed up onshore and goes to investigate the cause of this, while Maddie’s mum Annalise (Jessica Morris – Evil Bong 666) is a love interest for Hunter. One of the most confusing characters is Phillip and Maddie’s classmate Radu (Chase Padgett). While he delivers a lot of the gags (and a very specific Jurassic Park reference), he does border on being an offensive character due to his mock German accent and personality as a clueless and slightly sleazy person. Despite the running gag of him being misunderstood due to his accent being amusing, he is mostly annoying. This particularly is a shame because he could’ve been a strong character, especially with his development throughout the film. But, instead, he comes off as annoying to watch.

Crabs! carries with it a goofy plot, but it executes this with a very low budget that is utilized well for the most part. The creature designs of the crab monsters, and the practical effects used to bring them to life, were silly but charming. It’s clear that the film’s influences are films like Jurassic Park, the original Godzilla vs King Kong and even Gremlins, with one scene being a re-enactment of the bar scene from the first film. The crabs also make silly sounds as they move and attack, once again imitating Gizmo the Mogwai. But combined, it all works; the film is goofy from the start so, when the crabs appear, they fit in comfortably. Plus, the ending crab monster looks awesome, and the final battle is something that was unexpected but extremely enjoyable.

Where the film fails is with its slow pacing and awkward first half. Crabs! is trying to recapture the spirit of the 90’s monster movies and b-movies, which is something that can be personally appreciated as someone who was born in the 90’s. However, it seems uncomfortable with the tone it’s going for in the first half; its pacing is extremely slow for what the premise is and, when the crab monsters do appear, it feels like it should be the finale, despite there being another 40 minutes left. Which means that it’s also too long.

Crabs! has a lot of charming aspects: the lead character and his story arc, the great practical effects and creature design, and the crazy Power Rangers-like finale. The two leads are fantastic, and their friendship is very charming. But it’s ultimately dragged down by its runtime and pacing. The first half is too slow for what the premise is and 30 minutes, at least, could’ve been cut to make it a more concise film.

This year’s Frightfest is off to a mediocre start for me; a ridiculous monster movie involving crab monsters was expected and that is mostly what was delivered. The arc revolving around the protagonist is definitely an aspect that stands out, and another film revolving around the two lead characters would be something that I would like to see. It’s just a shame it takes so long for the titular crabs to get to shore.

Rating: ★★★