When you name your monster movie “Gremlin“, it’s pretty damned hard to avoid comparisons to Joe Dante’s family-horror masterpiece. However, strangely enough, Ryan Bellgardt’s low budget monster movie has nothing to do with the 80s Christmas classic other than its temporarily diminutive antagonist, and is instead a new, completely original creation with hints of films like Hellraiser, The Ring and Critters for good measure!
Believe it or not, Gremlin is, at its heart, a serious family drama that just happens to feature a tiny murderous monster. Starring Adam Hampton as the Thatcher family patriarch, the movie revolves around a mysterious box that was gifted to the already troubled family by a disturbed uncle. They eventually discover a horrific tiny being that exits the box at regular intervals, intent on killing the family of whoever it was gifted to, one by one. The Thatchers must then learn to put their differences aside in order to get rid of the beast and survive.
While the plot centers on what might as well be the physical manifestation of a chain letter from hell (and a particularly nasty one at that, which you can only forward to your loved ones), Gremlin actually takes itself excruciatingly seriously. Most filmmakers associate tiny monster movies with trashy horror-comedy flicks, but Bellgardt was hell-bent on making the titular monster a real threat to this dysfunctional family. The idea is commendable, but the film just doesn’t have what it takes for this serious approach to be even remotely effective.
A confused script is mostly to blame for this, as the supernatural elements and mundane drama don’t mesh as well as they should. At times it feels like the film is actually a fan edit of two completely unrelated movies from entirely different genres. That’s not to say that the concept of a terrible curse that can only be passed on to someone you love isn’t a great idea, but the film just doesn’t do enough with it.
That being said, the monster’s design and backstory is interesting enough, despite more than a passing resemblance to the Cloverfield monster. Sadly, the execution once again sours what was a genuinely interesting idea, as stilted acting and sub-par digital effects prevent Gremlin from living up to its goal of being a competent thriller. The ending is an especially unfortunate example of this with its baffling ambition, in light of these limitations.
If the filmmakers had decided on a lighter tone, or perhaps if they had come into possession of a larger budget, Gremlin could have been an extremely entertaining monster movie. Nevertheless, as it stands, the film isn’t entirely horrible, with several (oftentimes unintentionally) charming sequences and some intriguing mythology, but it’s far from a good movie. If you’re searching for an amusing monster flick to liven up your late nights, there are probably better choices out there, though there’s at least some fun to be had with this movie.