It’s been 33 years since the Critters franchise first invaded our screens. In that time, the series — which follows pint-sized carnivorous aliens unleashing mayhem on human folk — has spawned five feature-length movies and a web series. Most of these installments have been campy fun, but like most long-running franchises, it’s best to enter each latter entry with your expectations in check. That said, the Critters flicks are very self-aware and boast a certain charm that makes them easy to devour when the mood is right. I’m a fan.
The previous addition to the saga, Critters: A New Binge, marked a low point for the franchise. The Shudder series was an attempt to reboot the little buggers for a new generation, and while that’s a perfectly reasonable idea considering these tiny menaces have been around for decades, the webisodes left a lot to be desired. Afterwards, many horror fans thought it was time to leave these rascals in the past and not tarnish their legacy anymore.
With Critters Attack, though, the franchise is still hell-bent on chomping away. And while it’s far from the best entry in the series, it’s a mildly entertaining creature feature that will likely find its way into the viewing habits of today’s young, burgeoning horror fans when they stumble upon it on television one evening. Like the other Critters movies, the film’s age rating might suggest it’s adult-oriented, but at its heart it’s a live-action cartoon that’s secretly aimed at children.
The story follows Drea (Tashiana Washington), who takes a job babysitting for a college professor who works at the institution she hopes to attend. According to one of her friends, the job will boost her chances of being accepted. Unfortunately, the children she’s tasked with overseeing — Trissy (Ava Preston), Jake (Jack Fulton), and Phillip (Jaeden Noel) — are bored at home. In an effort to entertain the little brats, Drea takes them on a nature hike, unaware that some hungry Krites have crash-landed in their small town and are feasting on every living thing they encounter.
While being tracked by the ravenous critters, our group of unlikely heroes discover a cute, seemingly harmless critter queen named Bianca, who’s fleeing her fellow creatures after being exiled from their homeland. Naturally, the group can’t leave Bianca behind because she’s too adorable, but with the other critters looking to feast on them like an all-you-can-eat buffet, they must discover their inner warriors and put a stop to their bloody onslaught.
Directed by Bobby Miller from a script by Scott Lobdell, the latest movie was made as part of an agreement between Warner Bros and SyFy. Thus, the film has a television film production quality that makes its low budget limitations very evident. Still, if you’re a fan of the franchise that won’t be an issue as it’s hardly a film series known for its lavishness. At the same time, it’s one of the more upscale SyFy creature yarns out there thanks to some charming animatronic puppets and people being chomped to bits.
The creators of Critters Attack know that the main appeal of these movies are the monsters. As such, the script is underwritten and the human characters are only there to service the mayhem. If only they had more personality. Still, the actors playing them do a good enough job of carrying the adventure along between the moments of madness.
The good news is that there’s enough wacky moments on display (for TV movie standards anyway) to enjoy. The final third delivers some satisfying splatter, which is enhanced by the use of practical effects and goo. There’s also a fantastic scene where the critters converge into a giant ball and chase their food, which had me laughing like a rapscallion. However, there’s also a couple of kill scenes that either take place off-screen or are difficult to actually see, so for every good moment of carnage there’s another that’s quite underwhelming.
Of course, fans of the series will be thrilled to see Dee Wallace return to the fold. In this one, she plays Aunt Dee, a bounty hunter with a big gun who’s an expert at blasting these carnivorous aliens to smithereens. According to Wallace, Aunt Dee is her character from the first film, only now she goes by a different alias and is an action hero as opposed to a sweet mom. She’s also by far the best character in the movie, and I’d be interested in seeing more sequels where Wallace gets to explore her badass side.
All in all, Critters Attack is probably better than most people — including fans — will expect from a Critters sequel with ties to SyFy. Some fun creature action coupled with an earnest attempt to make a fun, nostalgic romp is enough to overcome the film’s shortcomings. There’s an audience for undemanding TV movies like this, and if you’re among that niche base you’ll have some fun with Critters Attack.