The intensely disturbing prospect of death by blood-sucking arachnid only faintly comes through in Gabriel Medina’s meek and mild “The Vampire Spider.” Suffering from the same muted moods and slack pacing that plagued “Phase 7” (also care of production house Aeroplano), this ostensible horror pic from the director of dark laffer “The Paranoids” works best as an ironic comedy of teen angst, parental alienation and, well, arachnophobia. Given the pic’s exotic pedigree, genre fests will bite.
Opening with a clever quote from Jack Kerouac, the pic finds teen boy Jeronimo (Martin Piroyansky, who deservedly won the actor prize at Buenos Aires) riding shotgun with dad Antonio (Alejandro Awada) as they wend their way from the city to a cabin in the woods. Even in this early sequence, single shots are extended in a manner closer to that of an art film than of a standard genre pic, for better and for worse: Throughout, “The Vampire Spider” intriguingly straddles both moviemaking traditions, but falls prey to too many longueurs and overextended passages that call for tighter editing.
Father and son — who’s on a battery of meds evidently to counter psychosis — aren’t close, and Antonio feels that a weekend away would do them both good. Their relationship is barely sketched in before the titular spider rudely intrudes on Jeronimo’s bedroom at night, in what ends up being the pic’s scariest scene. To ease his son’s fears that he’s been bitten, Antonio takes him to a doctor (Paula Ituriza), who treats the boy’s small bite and sends them on their way with no concerns.
Of course, no self-respecting horror pic treats scientists of any stripe with less than contempt and doubt, and that holds true here. Naturally, the bite grows worse, freaking out poor Jeronimo, who wanders away from the cabin in dazed fear. Camila (Ailin Salas), a mysterious girl who manages the cabin, finds Jeronimo and leads him to a local medicine man (Ricardo “Archi” Hart), who coldly informs the lad his bite is fatal and can only be reversed … by being bitten again by another vampire spider! And not just anywhere, but smack in the eyeball.
The slightly exaggerated manner of Piroyansky’s wide-eyed naif is one of several clues that suggest the entire enterprise is a comedy that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. This becomes more pronounced when the medicine man hands Jeronimo off to mountain guide Ruiz (Jorge Sesan), who turns out to be deeply crazed and paranoid in ways that Jeronimo’s own disturbances don’t come close to matching.
All this should be terrifically entertaining, even gripping. But too often, sequences stretch out well past their effectiveness, as edited by Nicolas Goldbart (who directed “Phase 7”), never achieving the taut suspense of art-horror mavens such as Ti West.
As he showed in “The Paranoids,” Medina is best at suggesting disturbances beneath his actors’ placid surfaces, with Piroyansky and Sesan dominating the physical and psychological action. Mainly shot on so-so vid by lenser Lucio Bonelli in ultra-bright daylight in a rugged, mountainous patch of Argentina’s Cordoba state, the pic would have been prime material for 35mm. Visual and makeup effects are smartly kept to a minimum.