Arachnophobia ★★★

Jeff Daniels stars as a San Francisco doctor who, after moving to a small town with his family, must face his fears after discovering a particularly deadly strain of spider is responsible for a host of mysterious deaths that started around the time of his arrival, joining up with an oddball group to put a stop to this threat once and for all.

It’s a likeable throwback to classic creature features of old, having fun mixing humour and suspense in this unassuming setting; the cast all seem to be enjoying themselves, especially Daniels, great as the Everyman hero caught up in it all, the star bringing an affable groundedness that bounces well off of the high concept premise~even if it does take a while to really get going.

The story begins in full swing while setting everything up in the jungles of South America, but on moving to the little town I think it loses some of that initial momentum for a time; while still enjoyable, getting some fun situations from  playing this sensible city doctor off of the quirky small town residents he meets, I think the film doesn’t quite do enough with its fish-out-of-water side to entirely sustain this middle section.

Most of that segment just consists of the spiders going around randomly biting people, and because there’s only so many ways it can show this I don’t think the story quite manages to make them enough of a consistent threat at this point, something which causes that stretch before the characters eventually discover the true cause behind these incidents to feel a little static and slightly repetitive in the way it’s set out.

There’s not a huge amount to this bit, so it’s only really in the final stretch that this eventually hits the pulpy level of B movie-inspired fun previously hinted at, making better use of the central concept in comparison to earlier while amping the stakes up in an engaging way. This leads into a big and suitably epic resolution cleverly set up over the story to make for satisfying pay-off, hitting just the right tone for a memorable last showdown (even if the very last scene before the credits is a bit of a damp squib).

Arachnophobia is an enjoyable horror comedy that benefits from never taking itself too seriously, director Frank Marshall threading enough fresh quirks in to play around with and change up the usual formula while also (like a lot of Amblin productions of that time) adding some genuinely creepy little moments that manage to push on the limits of the PG rating ever so slightly. I liked the film, though it does feel like one of those movies that (while definitely entertaining at the time) doesn’t quite do enough to really stand out and be truly memorable in the long run, so despite having lots of charm it can’t help but feel a little run of the mill afterwards.

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