Picked up for distribution by the Troma studio, Spidarlings is an unapologetic and unrepentant zero-budget indie-flick. It is also the kind of movie that viewers will either buy into and go with, or switch off from in disbelief after a few minutes. Things get off to an impressive start with a brilliant set of opening titles featuring the kind of punchy soundtrack and sassy animated visuals used to similar good effect in 1995’s Tank Girl movie. It shares with that film a cartoonish “up yours” punk sensibility. But as the feature itself begins, it becomes apparent that no other on-screen production values will come close to matching the quality of that initial gambit.
Two young lesbian lovers Eden (Sophia Disgrace) and Matilda (Rahel Kapsaski) eke out an existence on society's fringes, both hoping for a better life but with little expectation it will come their way anytime soon. Behind on their rent and scraping by on the money one of them makes as a hostess in the seedy, down-at-heel Juicy Girls nightclub, the pair are out for whatever cheap laughs and quick fun they can find. Their world is populated by oddball characters: weirdo club clients, restless drag queens, strange drinking partners, surreal policemen, unhinged psychopaths and a very angry landlord.
Their narrative of their lives does not unfold in the usual way either. Day and night appear to be arbitrary constructs and anyone in their circle is liable to burst into song (and usually a really, really long song) at unexpected moments. Their story also moves in and out of animated sequences (and, in the live footage, the camera drifts in and out of focus too).
Even amongst its peers in the indie-fringe, the technical standards of Spidarlings are extraordinarily low: many scenes are shot from a single fixed camera, using available light and relying on ambient sound recording (leaving chunks of dialogue all-but inaudible). The quality of performances is questionable at best. Incidental music tacked on to scenes after-the-fact is usually so ill-fitting it sounds like it was attached with a staple gun. And the movie’s timeline unfolds as if it was improvised as-and-when people and places were available as shooting progressed.
All of which means that the attractions of Spidarlings cannot lie in the cast and crew’s cinematic craft. What the colour-saturated, disjointed scenes of the movie offer is the atmosphere of a joyously off-kilter style. This is a film that revels in the cheapness, and the shonky substandard nature, of what’s on screen. Spidarlings embraces kitsch and schlock, the macabre, the gory and the outrageous. It’s just a shame that it’s not better at bringing its enthusiasms to the screen.
As if to reinforce the acknowledgement of its influences, the girls’ house is filled with the posters of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Eraserhead and the screen work of John Waters and Divine. Alongside Roger Corman, one obvious potential reference point missing from their walls is a poster for Derek Jarman’s punk odyssey Jubilee, although Spidarlings lacks that movie’s pretensions to be profound. This film’s low-rent setting, its garish, grotesque atmosphere and its overcranked colour wash are all homages to the no-money school of trash and transgressive cinema. But this movie lacks the panache, the inventiveness or the edge of the films that seem to have inspired it.
The film does try to say something about social exclusion and the consumer society, and to celebrate the life of the defiant outsiders who refuse to buckle under the weight of the pressure to conform. The movie’s feminist heroines are plucky and resilient (while pretty much all of the male characters are repellent). But you’d be hard pressed to discern exactly what the movie’s message or manifesto is. The mutant spider plot is also pretty much an irrelevance, misplaced amidst a series of bizarre vignettes and dysfunctional encounters.
Spidarlings is so left field, so “out there”, so unashamed about its underperformance that it is likely to attract a niche group of enthusiasts eager to champion its elevation to cult cinema status. But beyond those adherents, it would be interesting to be able to count how many of those viewers intrigued by its compelling opening titles remain transfixed for the two hours that then elapse before the (rather more ordinary) closing credits roll.
SPIDARLINGS / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: SALEM KAPSASKI / STARRING: SOPHIA DISGRACE, RAHEL KAPSASKI, LEE MARK JONES, RUSTY GOFFE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW