Despite having one of the worst set-up first acts of any monster movie in history, ELF does redeem itself slightly towards its middle when for a few minutes the wild FX-filled comedy proves to be what it sets out to be – a wacky tribute to the totally B-grade cheesy monster movies of the 50’s. However it’s all too brief a respite from the otherwise disappointing effort from Kiwi helmer Ellory Elkayem.
This lacks both the laughs and chills that you can find in superior films like “Arachnophobia”, and surprisingly for its first thirty minutes feels like a bad student film as proceedings move with such a deliberately tired and predictable pace your saying “bring on the giant spiders already”. When they do start bringing them in though, it involves lame visual gags at first (such as a cat/spider fight in a couple’s walls), then follows that with a sequence involving ‘jumping spiders’ which is freaky at the start but as the logistics of the scene play out the threat is gone as it feels so artificial (the critters can jump vast distances yet always see to be just one metre behind a kid on a motor bike).
The spiders themselves are so animated they aren’t particularly creepy at all, especially the bigger they get the less and less of a threat they seem. Some of the opening scenes with the normal sized creepy crawlies in the spider farm shop are far more spine tingling than the larger FX creations to come. Its only in the middle section as the residents flee to a shopping mall for cover that things turn for the better.
In a film which seemed to go out of its way to be polite and politically correct at first it comes as a surprise to see some rather violent bloodthirsty action as the creatures pounce, rip open car doors and leap onto their victims with real savagery. A linking with an underground mine subplot stretches credibility but it leads to the inevitable showdown with the single big mama spider which is odd because it completely defies the logic of the setup (which had many spiders of different types all being affected by the growth).
Wuhrer is a likeable female lead in a pseudo-Linda Hamilton style tough girl role and whilst its fun seeing Arquette in a darker and more serious tone than usual, even he struggles with some painful dialogue. Both however are well chosen for such weak material and for the most part are convincing throughout.
The rest of the cast from the idiotic sheriff to the over-paranoid radio announcer are so annoying your glad when the spiders come for them, and one wonders why the talented Scarlett Johanssen ever agreed to be a part of this tripe. The score and FX are fine but so much more could’ve been done with a better script and a more savage satirical tone in regards to those old B-movies, instead we’ve got a very kiddie-safe, almost animated disaster movie. Video rental at best.