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SXSW Film Review: ‘Snatchers’

A teenager's first sexual experience leads to her giving birth to an alien monster in this giddily entertaining horror comedy spinoff.

Stephen Cedars, Benji Kleiman
Mary Nepi, Gabrielle Elyse, J.J. Nolan, Nick Gomez, Rich Fulcher, Austin Fryberger, Ashley Argota, Amy Landecker, Alex Skinner.

1 hour, 36 minutes

“Clueless” meets “It’s Alive,” among other things, in “Snatchers.” Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman’s first feature is a great argument for teenage chastity, in that its high school heroine’s first sexual experience leads overnight to an alien-monster pregnancy and, possibly, the end of the world. See, impulses have consequences!

Moralists may wish that message were delivered a tad more seriously, but there’s a great deal of fun to be had from this high-energy spinoff of an eponymous online series. In a SXSW Midnighters lineup overladen with variable horror comedies, this is at least one genuinely funny entry. It’s got a decent shot at theatrical exposure in addition to bright streaming prospects, all of which will no doubt be boosted by enthusiastic reception on the genre-fest circuit.

Sophomore Sara (Mary Nepi) has become a member of the Madre Vista High in-crowd led by snippy princess Kiana (Ashley Argota), to the distress of hitherto BFF Hayley (Gabrielle Elyse), who’s too much of a nerd to be seen with. A bone (ahem) of contention between all three girls is Sara’s boyfriend Skyler (Austin Fryberger), whom Kiana covets and Hayley disdains as an admittedly super-cute but stereotypically dumb jock.

Upon returning from a family vacation in Mexico, however, Skyler announces he’s now an ex-boyfriend — his libido has become a higher priority than honoring Sara’s desire to wait to consummate their relationship. A few hours of reflection later, she decides having a boyfriend this sought-after is more important than her virginity, which is promptly lost in an act whose perfunctory nature is distinguished only by cries of pain. His cries, surprisingly.

Having been there and done that, Sara looks forward to gloating over her status as a newly minted “woman.” But that satisfaction is considerably blunted by physical discomfort, then disbelief and terror, as with illogical speed she develops all signs of being pregnant. Dragging the neglected but still-trustworthy Hayley along for support, Sara’s visit to the OB/GYN turns into an emergency-birth bloodbath, with staff suffering mortal peril from the thing that comes out of Sara’s nether parts.

Already full of teen spirit, “Snatchers” transitions at this point from pure comedy to tongue-in-cheek action movie, as our two heroines run around trying to stop the deadly crab monster that Skyler’s infected seed hath wrought. Making a dire situation worse is the fact that Sara almost immediately seems to be pregnant again. Plus, Skyler’s natural horniness has been rendered indiscriminatingly compulsive by whatever supernatural malady he picked up south of the border. Amid all this, Sara’s single mom, Kate (J.J. Nolan), becomes a host for the fast-moving, murderous critter, while police officer Oscar (Nick Gomez) and Hayley’s frenemy Jerome (Alex Skinner) emerge as the girls’ principal allies in the fight.

Comprised mostly of new footage, with about 25% lifted from the web series’ first season, “Snatchers” has no trouble feeling like a “real” movie, particularly given the decision to have DP Nate Hurtsellers shoot in a very widescreen format. Though the less-than-knockout finale doesn’t end things on as inspired a note as one might like, there are giddy prior setpieces of splatstick mayhem at a police station and a teen party.

The film percolates along thanks to the comic esprit of the players, snappy visual and editorial presentation, and the screenplay’s “Clueless”-like fountain of entertainingly over-the-top youth slang. There’s some gore here, yet “Snatchers” is so good-naturedly true to an adolescent viewpoint, it lands closer to pre-fall Lindsay Lohan terrain than the R-rated black-comedy likes of such vaguely similar sci-fi/horror joints as “The Faculty” or “The Hidden.”

There’s a lot of verve and polish to all the modestly scaled packaging elements, with Christopher Doucet’s original score adding to the fun by deliberately pushing the overactive-musical-commentary envelope. The creature FX don’t aim to be particularly convincing or scary, combining “Gremlins”-esque faces with scuttling tentacles to achieve a vaguely Ray Harryhausen-like result.

SXSW Film Review: 'Snatchers'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, March 6, 2019. (In SXSW — Midnighters.) Running time: 96 MIN.

Production: A Stage 13 presentation of a Make Good Content production in association with The Olde Money Boyz. (International sales: Stage 13/Warner Bros., Los Angeles.) Producers: Paul Young, Eric Fisher, Scott Hinckley, Elli Legerski. Executive producers: Stephen Cedars, Benji Kleiman, Scott Yacyshyn.

Crew: Directors: Stephen Cedars, Benji Kleiman. Screenplay: Cedars, Kleiman, Scott Yacyshyn. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Nate Hurtsellers. Editors: Cedars, Kleiman, Eric Fisher, Hank Friedmann. Music: Christopher Doucet.

With: Mary Nepi, Gabrielle Elyse, J.J. Nolan, Nick Gomez, Rich Fulcher, Austin Fryberger, Ashley Argota, Amy Landecker, Alex Skinner.

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