Gremlin, singular not plural.
Hollywood lawyers may have a field day on director and writer Ryan Bellgardt if there was more than one. You know if you’re going to call a film something that close in name to one of the most beloved films of a generation, you better be either swinging some sizable cojones or producing something entirely new. Might be my age but going into this, that Jerry Goldsmith theme tune was all I could hear.
Introducing the Thatcher family, a dysfunctional bunch of folks. Dad Adam (Adam Hampton) has been having a affair, teen daughter Anna (Katie Burgess) is pregnant and the youngest child Henry (Christian Bellgardt) has some issues stemming from a major family incident involving their now absent elder son which we don’t mention. The mother Julie (Kristy K. Boone) is holding things together as best she can and to be honest isn’t doing too bad until their family is bequeathed a mysterious box.
Oh wait… A mysterious box? Does this contain a cuddle little creature by any chance? Thankfully for the film makers checkbooks no. For the Thatchers however what lies inside is far worse than a cease and desist order, it’s a tiny demon creature! It may be small but it’s intent on killing all the people the boxes owner cares about. The only way to rid themselves of it, is to gift it to someone they truly love before the boxes timer runs out.
Jokes about the films title aside the similarities between this and the family comedy/horror (yes it’s horror, watch that scene with his mum knifing a gremlin to death and tell me it’s not) from the 80’s are few and far between. The family is in pieces… Figuratively and literally… and the creature would look more at home in a Del Toro movie than a Muppet one. It’s a very downbeat and dark world already before the critter makes his appearance. Teen pregnancy, work affairs and the horrible death of a child make this a complex family unit to begin with, almost as if the gremlin within the box is a metaphor for something existing deep within a family member.
Production wise its well polished but acting and effects levels go up and down. Certainly can’t fault the intentions and ambitions of the story its just lacking in areas. The idea the box can only be given to someone you truly love is a neat twist on the chain letter curse. You’d think that idea would have featured much more with a family so divided, but that plot wraps itself up early on and family members drop way too quickly and with very little emotional impact. The origin story where the curse is explained feels tacked on, but then the entire detective trying to find out more about the family sub plot a little pointless, except to add unnecessary exposition to things.
The thing is these were ideas that felt like they were leading somewhere. The internal conflicts within the family, lack of emotion about death, the tragic loss of a loved one being repressed, a child who has emotional issues and who confines himself to a box when stressed… It felt like there was more at work than a literal unstoppable demon in a box. So *spoilers*when you find out that’s all it is its a little bit of a let down.
Overall its a curious mix of 80’s tiny creature features (Critters, Ghoolies and…. Gremlins) mixed with gritty melodrama and a touch of occult mystery. A nice idea just let down by threads that go nowhere and an ending that needed more reality instead of fantasy.