Movie Review: Giant Crawly bug menaces “The Arbors”

I hear this line so often that I’ve decided that it’s a screenwriter’s mark of confidence in her or his work, or at least a statement of chutzpah.

“Can’t this all be over?”

You have to know that late — TOO late — third act zinger could blow up in your face if your movie’s a chore to get through. But hell’s bells, here it is again.

“The Arbors” is a creature feature every bit as exciting as its title, akin to “watching trees grow,” as the joke goes.

It’s a somber, SLOW movie about a locksmith (Drew Matthews) trapped in this drab, “dreary small town,” so goes the plot description on IMDb.

“Hey,” I say to myself. “Those ugly 1970s ranch-style subdivisions, that dumpy Mayflower Seafood restaurant? Got to be Winston-Salem!”

Did co-writer/director Clayton Witmer write that publicity description himself? Because just before I moved there, forgotten hack director James Orr referred to the place as “a Hellhole,” after filming “Mr. Destiny” with Michael Caine and Jim Belushi. Witmer’s diss barely registers compared to that.

Ethan the lump of a locksmith seems totally adrift and “stuck,” working an on-call job, losing his close connection with married-with-a-kid brother Shane (Ryan Davenport), a loner and such a loser that even the teenaged son of a neighbor feels OK bullying him.

But there are these guys he’s seen in the middle of the night, poking around with flashlights while wearing Hazmat suits.

OK, they’re body shop paintbooth suits, with Harbor Freight goggles and barely-Corona-proof masks. Budget-smudget. Nothing says “Giant Government Coverup” like six guys in paintbooth suits piling out of a 1998 Jeep Cherokee.

Their “monster detector” appears to be a weed whacker with an LED light stuck on the end. Cool.

A dead deer gives Ethan an idea of what they might be looking for. SOMEthing is eating it from the inside. Naturally, he brings the dead deer home, tries to keep this oversized, toothy spider in a pet carrier, and when it chews through that…

“I…I just found something,” he wants to show to his brother. Brother’s too busy for that.

The first blood spilled is Ethan’s. A mere flesh wound…that never heals! The damned thing gets out after that, and all these people who cross him start to disappear.

Ethan’s paranoia makes him avoid the cops and avoid the ex-girlfriend (Daryl Munroe) who’d like to lure him out of town. Instead, he gets mixed up with his brother’s vigilante who think some pervert must be grabbing their kids.

As if mousy, oddball working odd-hours Ethan wouldn’t be their first and last most likely suspect.

Matthews wears the same blank, empty expression, pretty much first scene to last. A couple of the creepier acquaintances who hassle Ethan make stronger impressions, if only for a scene or two.

Trying to tie all monster chomping to something in Ethan’s increasingly paranoid and put-upon psyche seems an intellectual overreach.

And as this weary, unfunny and unfrightening slug of a thriller slides ever-so-slowly to its nearly-two-hours-away finale, an actor utters that defiant line that any karma-conscious screenwriter should recognize as tempting fate, or at least tempting the audience to laugh in ridicule at what has unfolded before us.

“Can’t this all be over?”

MPA Rating: unrated, violence

Cast: Drew Matthews, Ryan Davenport, Daryl Munroe, Alexandra Rose, Tony Hughes

Credits: Directed by Clayton Witmer, script by Chelsey Cummings, Clayton Witmer. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:56

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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