'Snatchers' Review: This Horror Comedy Is Far Funnier Than It Is Terrifying [SXSW]

Which is more terrifying: keeping up your high school status, or childbirth? Directors/writers Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman honor both painstaking enterprises in their furiously entertaining hor(ror)monal romp, Snatchers. Initial parallels to 2007's Teeth fade quickly as the film splices Mean Girls DNA with Critters or Gremlins, or most appropriately, Slither. This is the kind of maternal midnighter that uproariously decapitates a gynecologist and coins the phrase "vag-cannon" while doomsday rages onward. It deals with single parenthood, safe sexual practices, and feisty gender "free pass" commentaries, all while nasty uterine buggers spatter Madre Vista bloody red. Mary Nepi stars as burgeoning overnight cool-girl Sara Steinberg, who's on the outs with boyfriend Skyler (Austin Fryberger). He claims his "priorities have shifted," but Sara knows the real reason: her refusal to fornicate. After mother Kate (J.J. Nolan) leaves for class one night, done-up Sara saunters over to Skyler's for a night of coital bliss that'll win him back. The couple hooks up, erasing Sara's virginity, but they don't use a condom, and the worst possible scenario happens. Sara wakes up not just pregnant, but nine months pregnant (the pregnancy test happy face bleeds downwards into a frown).Enter the sci-fi roots of Snatchers, which is co-written by Scott Yacyshyn in addition to Cedars and Kleiman. It turns out Skyler's fresh off a Mexican family vacation – which Not Ryan Phillippe disrespects with white-boy immaturity whenever possible – and he may or may not have contracted a Mayan pregnancy curse. Mainstream culture so commonly romanticizes bedroom frolicking as carefree and sultry and passionately orgasmic, but everything comes with consequences. In Sara's case, it's one mini-sized insectoid-lookin' kin that can overtake human nervous systems via a spiked tail jack-in, and later on, a bigger mama spider-crawler for lil' man to freak on.It doesn't matter if it's "just one time": that's all it takes for fertilized eggs to incubate infernal offspring.Credit Chris Hanson's effects department for crafting prosthetic, movement-range beasties to showcase whenever possible, meanwhile employing digital renders for intensity ramp-ups, zipping like a pinball off bumpers. Practical and animation techniques blend the illusion of vicious, tangible creatures that look the part in close-ups, absolving quicker bounce-about mania as Mexico's most evil aphrodisiac starts darting off ceilings, laptops, keg taps, you name it. Cedars and Kleiman capture all the zany mania of oddball creature features with Edgar Wright's editing influence (pulsating convenience store cocoons included) while retaining puppeteered menace during Ratatouille-esque bodysnatcher attacks, reverse Facehugger style.Shockingly, gruesomeness becomes a calling card of Sara's offspring. It's true that way-back schoolyard friend Hayley Chamerblain (Gabrielle Elyse), forgotten when Sara "got boobs first," has to see too much BFF butthole (relegated to under-the-hood checkups), but nothing compares to a police station shoot-'em-up sequence involving screwhead neck snaps, eye punctures, multiple shotgun blasts, and severed limbs. Well, maybe the gynecologist's office where Sara rockets her first malicious bun from her oven like an armor-piercing round? Oh, or the gas station slaughterhouse? You get my drift. Undefined goop, projectile spewing, and arms holding donuts with no owner all exist under a sticky layer of sanguine juices.Better yet, Snatchers is as spunky and spirited a horror comedy as they come. Nepi's Joseph-Kahn-universe energy remains unfazed by belly bumps, constant danger, or queen bitch Kiana's (Ashley Argota) cafeteria cattiness. Within three days, Sara blisters through every pregnancy symptom, never sold harder than Nepi swinging moods from sarcastic a**hole to sobbing blob to cackling hyena in a matter of seconds. Sara is one of those characters who finds herself in an unbelievable scenario yet exudes crackfire-wit cool, whether being injected with birthing tonic (translation: baby lubricant) or battling sex-positive party monsters. Nepi is always up to task, turning a typically weaker link character into a punchy full-blown heroine.Surrounding Nepi is a host of supporting players worth their aiding/failing of Sara. There's Gabrielle Elyse and her nerdy camaraderie, despite being left in the dust sophomore year. There's Austin Fryberger's patient zero horndog, whose lacrosse douche will do anything for tail in an over-exaggerated exemplification of how trash men can selfishly leave the pregnancy picture (hate away). There's J.J. Nolan as Sara's mother, who's sharing every experience and so desperately doesn't want to see her daughter make the same "mistakes." A supporting cast's job is to elevate major players, and Nepi's only hoisted by those around her – even Kiana's "faded" 151 crew, Nick Gomez's jokey police presence, or Rich Fulcher as a hippie animal doctor.Also, can we talk about how three men write and direct a 17-year-old's worst nightmare with respect to representation? Again, as with Fryberger's Skyler, adolescent stereotypes are exaggerated for emphasis, but Sara's subsequent guilt into intercourse highlights the nervous pressures surrounding teenage sex. Skyler's "I love you!" attempts to coax boinking followed by an immediate "UGH! WHATEVER!" upon denial exemplify the words used by some to manipulate. Sure, the primary overarching goal of Snatchers is to orchestrate mass prenatal hysteria, but there's a sweetness to multiple elements amid the brutality: Sara and Hayley's rekindled sisterly bond, Kate's projecting of fears before parental acceptance, Sara's control of the situation alongside her rock Hayley as a single mother with no father present – girls damning the patriarchy while south-of-the-border "infections" inflame.Snatchers is a wildly entertaining and appropriately badass girl-power monster mash that comes with a message: actions have consequences, but never hopelessness. We all have options and reliable counterparts who'll capture our eight-legged womb creatures in blenders for us (go with it). Snatchers slices through all the "horrors" of unexpected pregnancy while rocketing straight into equal parts American Pie vs. Species humor, social relevance (great recurring "xenophobia" gag), and batten-down-the-hatches invasion ferocity. It's far funnier than it is terrifying ("Sir, you know there's a lobster on your head?"), but Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman score one hilariously hedonistic victory for expecting mamas out there. It's OK to be scared, it's OK to explore different paths, and no matter what, it'll never be as bad as [gestures to bloody mangled corpses] this./Film Rating: 8 out of 10