I would love to know the story behind this film. Animal Planet are best known for their mostly factual series about animals – from great beasts to household pets (“Cats 101” and “Dogs 101” are excellent, and “Too Cute” is like a 30 minute packet of bliss). For reasons unknown, perhaps related to their 100% non-factual shows about Bigfoot (IT DOESN’T EXIST, YOU DUMDUMS), they decided they wanted to branch out into animal-themed movies. The natural partners in this low-budget world are The Asylum, and then The Asylum called James Cullen Bressack.
Bressack is a fast rising star in the horror world. Despite me really not liking his early film “Hate Crime”, he’s been a very busy fella, and it looks like he’s a hit away from ascending to the level where people other than us film nerds will know his name. I’m not sure this film will be it, but it definitely adds another string to his bow.
After a nice quick start, we’re right into a lakefront community being hassled by killer lampreys. These bad boys are bigger, meaner and kill-humans-er than your average lamprey, but for a really long time in this movie no-one believes that they’re capable of anything. The Federal environmental people, and the few locals we see, are a who’s-who of “That Guy” actors, from Shannon Doherty and Christopher Lloyd at the top end of the pack, to the bad guy from “A Christmas Story” and one of the witches from “The Craft” at the other. Rachel True, the aforementioned witch, is 47 years old and could easily pass for 30. Well done, her genetics!
I wonder if there was a contract clause about Bressack having to put some educational stuff about lampreys in this film to fulfil Animal Planet’s remit, because I actually feel like I know more about lampreys now than I did before I saw it. I also know that small-town Mayors will never, ever, err on the side of caution, because Mayor Christopher Lloyd, despite the enormous odds stacked against burying his head in the sand with people starting to die, insists so strongly on everything being fine that he gets a federal employee fired. It’s such a tired old trope of cinema (especially low-budget monster movie cinema) that I wish they’d figure out something new to do with it.
While Lloyd is waiting around for his inevitable poetic justice, the lampreys get bolder and bolder – the worry being that if they make it to the nearest Great Lake, they’ll completely destroy the ecosystem, causing incalculable damage. They start climbing over dams by suckering themselves up the sides, and it’s at this point that I have to let reality wander in. Picture it – you’re a wildlife guy, and there’s a potential catastrophe on the horizon. Do you just run around town trying to figure out how to stop it, or do you call in the National Guard, tons of backup, etc? It seems like killer lampreys about to wipe out all the river-life throughout America would be worth a big response. But as these films don’t have the budget for that sort of thing, all we get is three guys and a few plucky teenagers.
My notes contain two important hastily scribbled phrases – “people are really stupid” and “I really hate teenagers”. The Dad of the family, the federal guy, takes a spectacular amount of crap from his kids for trying to save the day; and despite tons of “seriously you guys, stay away from the water” advice, people still swim in their pools and park themselves on toilets without a care in the world. Also, everyone seems to be petrified of the lampreys, but whenever anyone attacks them, they always succeed, which calls into question the toughness of these fishy bastards.
This film is surprisingly tolerable. There’s some decently gross special effects, a little nod to the classic Peter Jackson film “Brain Dead”, quite a few decent lines and funny moments, and no real weak spots in the acting. Apart from a bit of a lull in the middle, some occasionally ropey CGI and a slight oddity with the timeline near the end, I’d have no problems recommending this. The best movie in Animal Planet’s history! (a line for the DVD release, there).
Rating: thumbs up
PS – for a much less kind (but much better written) review than mine, the Knobbyverse is the place to go – check out their review here.