'Critters Attack!' Review: Longtime 'Critters' Fans Will Get What They Want [Fantasia Film Festival]

Bobby Miller's Critters Attack! honors its meager franchise traditions, and your interpretation of that statement depends on your level of adoration of low-budget puppeteering. My reaction to the Crites' latest feeding frenzy is similar to my reaction to Phantasm: Ravager: it has minuscule funding, blatant attempts at nostalgia recreation, and purposeful "so bad it's good" vibes which prove you cannot force cult acclaim.Then again, as with Ravager, 2019's fuzzball fury will give Critters guardians precisely what they adore. New fanbase breeds won't start championing this Gremlins knockoff, but don't be surprised when familiarized audiences leave satisfied.Tashiana Washington stars as sushi delivery girl Drea, who dreams of attending her deceased mother's alma mater. Plans are put on hold when she's rejected a second time, but an opportunity arises in the form of a babysitting gig: impress one of the college's board members, and possibly gain an advantage. Too bad on a night where Drea's professionally in charge of two children – in addition to her brother Phillip (Jaeden Noel) – Crites start munching on townsfolk. It's up to Drea to protect her flock, with the help of "mysterious" Aunt Dee (Dee Wallace).Miller wrote and directed The Cleanse, a self-help movie featuring cutesy practical monsters, so Critters Attack! inked the proper helmer. Miller's sensibilities allow entertainment with puppets no matter how goofy or slapstick, which leans into Crites shenanigans. Does a showering park ranger scrub himself with a Crite instead of loofah? Does a Crite play bagpipes? Do Crites laugh maniacally while hitching backseat rides? Truthfully, I love these goofball moments. They're oddball and endearing.Alas, for every point, there's a counterpoint.Critters Attacks! is barebones creature filmmaking that relies primarily on fluffy blobs rolling around like flesh-hungry bowling balls. Its human performances are largely forgettable, its dialogue distilled from predictable B-movie plots, and the film is quite dull whenever Crites vanish. Miller's not working with Johnny Galecki or Anjelica Huston or even Anjelica Huston's second cousin, who'd probably have more screen presence than anyone here. Live by the Crites, die by the Crites. The question is, how much drollness are you willing to endure for your beloved alien rollers?Mirroring societal themes of the moment, Critters Attacks! introduces a white-and-black female Crite fleeing from her male counterparts. Bianca, a strong and powerful human ally, fights back against the Crites' ringleader – "Stripe" but, you know, a Critters version – as a soft and snuggly heroine. Yes, readers. There's substantial gender subtext in a Critters movie and I'm here for it? Drea, Aunt Dee, Bianca: all the film's strongest characters are all female. Underserved, but not misrepresented.Critters and Gremlins comparisons have been kicked around since Leonardo DiCaprio once graced a Crites sequel (Critters 3), but Critters Attacks! unabashedly drives those parallels home even beyond Crites multiplying by popping out of gnawed-through corpses like Mogwais shooting siblings out of their backs. Bianca is essentially the Gizmo of Miller's flick, fighting back against the one-eyed leader Crite who instructs his herd to hunt the rogue female. Who, of course, lends his expertise and knowledge to Drea when confronted with the existence of Bianca? "Famous Sushi" owner Chef Loong (Ho Chow) aka the film's Mr. Wing (Keye Luke). The adversarial Crite combat, Bianca's compassion towards her rescuers, Crite shenanigans – it's hard not to see Critters Attacks! as the cut-rate Gremlins it unwittingly becomes.The question is simple: what are you looking for in a 2019 Critters film? Updated technology, star-studded casts, anything more than hand puppets nibbling on actors who fake playtime pain? That's not a Critters film, frankly. Would you enjoy a return to form that's about frat bros running away from one mega-sized Crite ball like Indiana Jones from a boulder? Dee Wallace reprising her franchise role while blasting Crites with phaser blasters? Crite dolls being sliced in half, blown to shreds, and viciously ended during an Act III final stand? No matter your stance, don't expect to be blown away, but enough might be enough.Sometimes you're in the mood for that processed late-night junk food that you know provides zero nutritional value, and Critters Attack! is that reheated plate of french fries from yesterday's binge. Is the memory of what those crispy potato sticks once were, plus the familiarity of comforting starches, enough to excuse the less palatable delivery? If so, have another helping of Crite-y goodness, complete with a side of sloppy green alien goop. Again, this isn't some big-budget reboot or advanced auteur assembly. It's Critters doing what Critters do best: putting on a children's puppet show with some added gore for mature effects. The rest? Well, you're not exactly here for Oscar bait./Film Rating: 6 out of 10