Image Entertainment // 2003 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // August 11th, 2008
"A parallel dimension...a gateway to Hell"
Joining the SciFi Channel-branded "Essentials" collection, Webs stars '90s heartthrob Richard Grieco as humanity's only hope against an army of Arachnid-Americans.
On a final walkthrough of a warehouse scheduled for demolition, four Chicago electricians discover a locked room containing a portable nuclear reactor hooked up to a strange machine. One of the men accidentally powers up the device, turning a small glass platform into a glowing portal leading to an alternate universe where the city has been overrun by a half-human-half-spider army and their monstrous eight-legged Queen. When the portal closes behind them, Dean (Richard Grieco, Veronica Mars), Ray (Richard Yearwood, Due South), and Sheldon (Jeffrey Douglas, John Q) find themselves trapped in this nightmare world, forced to join a band of human survivors in their quest to destroy the Queen.
There's precious little information about Webs online. IMDb says it was on TV (which jives with the SciFi branding), but the back of the box says it's rated R. It apparently came out in 2003, but is only just now getting a DVD release. Without any extras to fill in the gaps, we may never know if Webs spent the last five years in an alternate universe, or whether it fell behind a filing cabinet in some production house storage facility. Wherever Webs spent the last half decade, it's here now, ready and waiting for fans of mediocre sci-fi/horror.
If you've ever seen a SciFi Channel original movie, you know how awful low-budget horror can be. That's what I expected, but I was wrong. Webs isn't that bad. The Arachnophobia-meets-Matrix-meets-30 Days Later story is competent; the acting is only mildly overwrought; and the special effects are surprisingly effective.
Despite borrowing heavily from much better films, Webs scores points for its semi-compelling mythology. Back at the safe house (there's always a safe house), the old professor (there's always an old professor) tells Dean and his crew about the spider Queens who entered this parallel Earth at the same time he did, turning men into inhuman soldiers at a rate faster than the military could fend them off, until at last only a handful of humans remained -- on the run and waiting for someone (bearing a mark not unlike Dean's tattoo) to lead them to victory. Sure, it's well-tread sci-fi ground, but it's also pretty well thought out in an internet fan fic sort of way.
As the star of the film, Richard Grieco oozes made-for-TV machismo. With his raspy voice and shoulder-length locks, he's got to be one of the baddest-assed electricians in cinematic history, if only by default. Is there any doubt he'll woo the strong-willed Elena (Kate Greenhouse, Street Time)? Or piss off the eternally pissed off freedom fighter Crane (David Nerman, The Lost World)? Or ultimately save the day?
The plot has all the points you'd expect. What do you do after accidentally opening a mysterious portal? Go through it, of course! What's the best course of action once you've landed on the other side? Go back home? Yeah, right. Everyone knows you wander off into the dark night of a deserted web-covered city and raid the contents of an armored truck, throwing handfuls of money into the air and hooting until a deranged spider-beast disembowels you.
The dialogue can be just as cheesy, reaching its low point during a tender moment shared between Dean and Elena in which she asks what's good about his world. "Birthday parties" and "cool jazz," he replies. Now that sounds like a world worth fighting for.
For a low budget 2003 television production, the special effects are pretty decent. Though the screeching spider-soldiers' long black claws and bad teeth make them look like redneck Edward Scissorhands, they explode in satisfying torrents of black blood, especially during the ammo-wasting battle climax. By filming in close quarters, it looks like there are a lot more characters onscreen than there really are, freeing up the FX budget for important things like close ups of the slimy Queen (who looks slightly better in puppet form than she does in a few wide CGI shots). Add in some nifty explosions, electrocutions, stabbings, and maulings, and you're looking at a pretty fun late Saturday night.
Whether or not Webs was made for TV, at least it's in widescreen. Despite some minor film grain, the picture looks good, especially considering how much of what happens is in shadow. The 5.1 surround mix booms and thuds and makes all kinds of creepy-crawlie noises. No complaints there. No extras, either.
Though Webs feels like a combination of elements from much better movies, the sum of those parts is surprisingly tolerable. It's certainly not "essential" (no matter what the packaging says), and I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but if you're looking for forgettable sci-fi, Webs holds together from predictable beginning to improbable ending, with plenty of apocalyptic violence and transdimensional portal repair in between.
Must be an alternate universe. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R