It’s hard to associate a creature-feature with a giant spider as its main antagonist other than as simple, gory B-movie fun but Itsy Bitsy, directed by Micah Gallo, aims a bit higher in its goals besides being just another horror flick with an oversized killer spider. In fact, the arachnid in question is kept to the shadows for most of the runtime and isn’t shown in all of its icky, eight-legged glory until about the very end.
Itsy Bitsy focuses, surprisingly, on its human characters first and foremost. Reeling from a traumatic experience, Kara Spencer (Elizabeth Roberts) moves from the big city to a small town to take a live-in nursing job with her two children Jesse (Arman Darbo) and Cambria (Chloe Perrin). Her client is Walter Clark (Bruce Davison), who is a collector of artifacts, and comes into possession of one believed to house the spirit of a malevolent spider goddess. Needless to say, she gets loose and starts wreaking havoc on the house, albeit slowly.
Kara is dealing with grief and loss, drowning her sorrows with pills while her son Jesse seethes with resentment at her and essentially takes care of his little sister Cambria all on his own. For better or worse, the characters are the glue holding Itsy Bitsy together and your enjoyment will vary on how much family drama you can tolerate in your big-spider movie. Between the family working through their issues and the needlessly convoluted backstory for why there’s a giant spider in the mix, there’s precious little time spent on the actual scares.
The spider is kept out of sight for most of the film, content to stalk in the background. It’s a tad bit unnerving, and Gallo manages to set up a few shots that evoke genuine tension, but it quickly becomes tiresome to see the spider poking a leg out from under the bed while Kara is stuck in her own drug addiction, neglecting her kids, and wallowing in the past. It feels many times like a Lifetime movie, only there’s a giant spider in the background.
Itsy Bitsy finally kicks into gear during its finale and delivers the kind of cheap thrills one hopes to see with an admittedly fantastic-looking spider puppet popping out of every kind of hole imaginable. The work on the puppet is amazing, and it’s such a shame there’s not as much of it shown onscreen as what the trailers would lead one to believe. Its finale has everything else one could hope for: children in danger, baby spiders crawling everywhere, and a fight between mother and spider. Had that been the focus, Itsy Bitsy could have been an arachnophobe’s worst nightmare.
Trying to elevate your movie in a genre like this is always a tricky business, and wherever Itsy Bitsy succeeds is where it also fails. Despite the solid acting, the back-and-forth issues of the various family members were never going to be a real strength in a giant spider picture. At certain points, Itsy Bitsy threatens to be the taut, skin-crawling horror movie that it should have been all along, but then kills the momentum altogether by abandoning its core concept for more melodrama.