Spidarlings (2016) Review by RevTerry

I have no beef with the spider community. I mean I'm not trying to get super up close to my spider homies(and prefer them outside usually), but they are good folk. They look weird as fuck, but they are just out here trying to live and in most cases do more good than bad. Personally, I feel like these arachnids catch bad rep unjustly based on their unwilling interactions with humankind, like pit bulls or garbage balers. The only real crime most have committed is being creepy looking and having a fucked-up ass cousin somewhere. To me, this seems harsh.  If being weird looking and having shifty family members is a sin, then a bunch of us are fucked right out the gate. If you really take the time to examine them, some of the eight-legged motherfuckers even have a kind of strange neurotic but cute Sci-Fi vibe going on, or at least look like some sort of lanky aliens. I almost shit an organ when I saw my first tarantula after moving back to the desert. It was purposefully crossing a hiking trail, and with less a short reassessment it continued its path almost indifferent to my existence.  Its movements mirrored the VHS Ray Harryhausen monsters ingrained into my brain since childhood. I was spooked at first, but that wasn't the shaggy monsters problem, he was just out there doing his spider thing, and being hairy. Fuck what I thought. If ever we shared a moment-- it by chance happened upon the beginning of the encounter, when we both paused and fought back a primitive instinct to strike out at a surprise interspecies standoff. I don't know about that fuzzy bastard, but I walked away with a new respect for my eight-legged fellow desert dwellers. Spiders are awesome, they are also one of the many subjects of the bizarre independent musical Spidarlings (2016).
Spidarlings is the story of Eden (Sophia Disgrace) and Matilda (Rahel Kapsaski), an eccentric young couple living in Essex England. Lately, they have come upon hard times economically, relying on Matilda’s income alone from the local musical strip club, Juicy Girls, as Eden, unemployed, waits on her disability to clear. It's been awhile since they have paid their rent, as in, they have never paid their rent, and the landlord (Chris Repps) is increasingly breathing down their neck. We find this out as he sings his side of the story in the form of a whispered drinking song when the couple is unable to evade him outside. There is some apparent drama in the relationship, and the threat of eviction only makes it all more difficult, with Matilda’s low wage (and pickpocketing) being the sole source of income. Despite needing the job, Matilda is unhappy with the seedy vibe and patrons of the bar, having to endure continued advances from rock & roll creeper Ticks (Lee Mark Jones) and a near altercation with a very pushy small man (Veteran actor Rusty Goffe) that couldn't keep his hands to himself. Facing homelessness, they hit up their shared confidant and the Juicy Girls musical hostess, Gena (Tiffaney Wells), but get only a song offered as help.  Something has obviously got to give, but before it can, shit gets weirder as someone with a micropenis starts killing off the club’s girls and Eden buys (and promptly becomes attached to) a big-ass, possibly magical, spider from a slightly cracked merchant (Lloyd Kaufman). From there we have a fun-loving excursion into madness involving cartoon interspecies mating rituals, vengeance, and musical numbers.  
The demented recital feels like underground filmmaking's mutated answer to True Romance (1993) by way of The Adventures of Priscilla,Queen of the Desert (1994) and Slumber Party Massacre II (1987). At its core, deep down, it is a poetic love story, but it comes fully dressed in a classically abstract epic, full of neon jabs at the real world, murder and karaoke-like breaks for sing-along antics. The “musical” aspects range from story-involved (mostly) harmonized dialog to complete psychedelic breaks from the already loose reality of the film. It never seems to hurt the watchability of the whole or get gimmicky, like a lot of other attempts at a musical (especially around its budget). The various styles for each tune are equally estranged from each other, but their individual place in the madness feels completely natural. My favorite song would have to be the catchy critique of advertising ( with the Citizen Fish meets Schoolhouse Rock! vibe going on) that took place in the grocery store, while the two main characters were deciding what to spend their cash on, instead of rent. It's difficult to place a hard genre on the film, and  I found myself trying to decide whether it's an indie slice-of-life film held together with sci-fi/horror elements or vice versa. Turns out it's both, and it's none, it just kind of does it's own fucking thing.  If I had to try, I would say it was a crusty buddy comedy/romance, hopped up on Kafka and cabaret (that would still not really do). Influences can be anything from old school Troma flicks and John Waters to more mainstream “cult” classics, and I probably only picked up half the call-backs on the first watch through. Its punk cred goes beyond an aesthetic with its Easter-egg hunt of critical satire and its stark refusal to pick one genre or style.  Parts are partially based on someone's real life or a local scene, but I had no trouble getting into it, even at points when it was far removed from my own (or the accent threw me).  It takes its time and jumps from place to place at an awkwardly somber pace. I could possibly see it losing some of the less patient viewers with the odd speed on top of the lower budget aspects, but it wears both these things pretty fucking well (especially when compared to “similar" experiments on its level). It is grimy in some of the best ways and as consistently unique as all shit. 
The film utilizes several mediums including entire sequences done in cartoon animation. Despite the lower budget, the cartoon pieces are well done and help add to the acid-like spirit of the film. At their worst, the cost effective animation reminded me of the more static segments from Reading Rainbow (or at least what I remember from 20+ years ago). The majority of the live action shots are washed out in varied bright color schemes, favoring the neon pink and blue combination. The effect, mixed with the willfully unbalanced story type, almost makes it feel like it could be a distant relative to Decoder (1984 reviewed here) but with horror and punk instead of sci-fi and industrial music. Outside of some loose dubbing, the sound quality works well for an indie film that relies on music so heavily. It uses a small group of fully decorated locations, shown through a frenzied and ever changing framing. This includes some pretty interesting one-off angles and some obvious on the job experimentation. I got a kick out of trying to identify all the posters that littered the walls in the duo’s home. Minimal gore, it's mostly just blood splatter, but there is an awesomely fucked up take on a classic slasher murder weapon (involving some utilitarian genital mutilation).
Spidarlings (2016) is a poetically tangled blend of attitude and showtunes. If Penelope Spheeris had found time between Suburbia (1983) and Dudes (1987 reviewed here) to direct a The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) inspired musical, then something close to this flick might have popped out. It induces feelings akin to catching a random interactive theatre show in San Francisco for five bucks, or the first time I heard Penis Envy (1981) by Crass. I definitely enjoyed the ride. Not likely one for the strict gore hounds, but there is a good chance the enjoyment could be enhanced with the right crew. I'm also glad it showed some love to the misunderstood arachnids. I don't think they get enough, and I like to vocalize that whenever possible since they know when and where I sleep.
2h | 2016
Director: Salem Kapsaski
Writers: Salem Kapsaski

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