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Friday, October 16, 2020

[Review] A New Setting Can’t Save ‘Tremors: Shrieker Island’ from Feeling Like the Same Old Routine

“Burt Gummer is the gift that keeps giving,” Michael Gross remarks in a 30-minute Tremors documentary that was released on YouTube this month, and the long-running franchise has indeed proven those words to be true. Coming directly in the wake of the television series “Family Ties,” 1990’s Tremors cast Gross against type as the gun-toting, Graboid-slaying Burt Gummer, a side character who quickly became the franchise’s main character. That makes Tremors an unlikely franchise – the first film bombed at the box office, after all – led by an unlikely leading man, and Gross is back once more in his 73rd year and the franchise’s 30th year in this Halloween season’s brand new seventh installment, Tremors: Shrieker Island.

Once again directed by Don Michael Paul, who also helmed 2015’s Tremors 5: Bloodlines and 2018’s Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, Shrieker Island takes us to a nature preserve in the Solomon Islands, where a group of trophy hunters have genetically engineered Graboids to create the ultimate hunting experience for wealthy clients. Naturally, once the Graboids and their Shrieker spawn escape containment, it’s up to you-know-who to save the day.

It’s a fun premise on paper, but you’d be forgiven for watching Tremors: Shrieker Island and swearing that you’ve already seen this movie before. While Michael Gross has always brought the goods as Burt Gummer, enough to keep the franchise afloat and make these direct-to-video sequels entertaining enough, the formula has by now worn quite thin, and there’s very little about Shrieker Island that does anything to inject new life into the proceedings. The movie briefly flirts with the idea of Burt being a bearded castaway, alone on an island and retired from Graboid hunting, but before you know it the beard’s off and he’s back to his usual self. And while we’ve never seen these monsters in an island setting before, this much is true, anyone expecting a little bit of aquatic horror from Shrieker Island will be disappointed to learn that the new environment ultimately doesn’t lend much personality to the proceedings.

For a franchise that’s always been happy to borrow from Jaws, it’s baffling that the opportunity to finally bring these movie monsters into the water is completely wasted here.

What’s “new” here is actually an old thing from the franchise’s distant past. True to the title, Tremors: Shrieker Island does indeed bring the Shriekers back to the franchise for the first time since Tremors 3, and it also introduces a new big bad in the form of a massive “Queen” Graboid cooked up in a lab like the Indominus Rex in Jurassic World. Alas, we rarely ever get to see the Godzilla-sized Graboid that’s described to us by the characters – save for one inspired shot that sees the massive beast lit up by green fireworks – and all the monster effects are of that intangible computer-generated sort. It’s not even that the visual effects are bad, per se, but they sure are a big time downgrade from the incredible practical effects that introduced us to these monsters back in the 1990s. This is a problem that continues to plague the franchise in its later installments, which have all but lost the charm of the originals.

Speaking of losing things, Tremors: Shrieker Island also loses Jamie Kennedy as Burt Gummer’s son Travis Welker, who fought Graboids alongside his dad in both of the previous sequels. Kennedy has instead been replaced by Jon Heder as new character Jimmy, a sort of surrogate son for Burt Gummer. I’m not exactly privy to the behind the scenes details here but it would seem to me that the script was likely written with Kennedy’s Travis originally in the role that became Heder’s Jimmy, as the new character is often treated like he’s Burt’s son. This creates a particular problem in the film’s final act, but to say any more than that would be to spoil some things. In any event, we’re told that Travis is locked up in prison during the events of this film for selling magic mushrooms, and that’s that. Moving right along!

The most notable new addition to the cast here is Richard Brake, who rose to prominence in the horror world thanks to his scene-stealing role in Rob Zombie’s 31. It’s Brake who plays the sleazy mastermind behind the pay-to-hunt-Graboids business venture, and really, who better to play a sleazy B-movie bad guy than Richard Brake? He’s pitch perfectly detestable as the most formidable human villain Burt has ever come up against, a far cry from the wholesome roster of characters we got to hang out with in the original Tremors. Other new arrivals include Jackie Cruz‘s Freddie, a sort of female Burt Gummer, Cassie Clare‘s badass arrow-slinging Anna, and Caroline Langrishe‘s Ja, the mother of Burt’s son Travis. They’re all stock characters, but this is after all the Burt Gummer Show at the end of the day.

Perhaps the biggest sore thumb in regards to Tremors: Shrieker Island is that it tends to take itself a bit too seriously, feeling more like an attempt to make a low-budget Jurassic World and less like, well, a Tremors movie. That horror-comedy spirit of the franchise isn’t all that present here, making for a less fun experience overall. On top of everything else the editing is often quite bad, with one scene constantly interrupting the flow and tension of another; there’s one particularly jarring moment in the film involving a bloody Graboid kill that feels like it’s missing the entire setup that should’ve come before it. Speaking of the kills, there’s really not much of note here in that department, as it’s mostly a case of characters being dragged off into the darkness by unseen threats. Monsters are slain and humans killed off, all of it feeling like a limp afterthought. If you blink you’ll miss it, and we’re onto the next scene. And most of the time you don’t even have to blink to miss it, because we’re told about cool things happening – swimming Graboids! an elephant kill! – but we’re never actually shown them.

Burt Gummer is a great character that Michael Gross has clearly had a blast playing for the past 30 years, and it’s always a treat when a horror franchise keeps on trucking along and keeping its original continuity in mind. But with Shrieker Island in the rearview, it seems pretty clear at this point that there’s very little, if any, wind left in the sails of the Tremors franchise, at least in its current form. There’s clearly just not enough money at the disposal of the filmmakers to do anything more with the franchise than they’ve already done, and I’m not sure there’s much story left to be mined from the saga of Burt Gummer. If this film is the last hurrah, the best thing I can say is that it’s at least brought to a close on a touching note.

At this point, maybe it’s time for a bigger budget reboot. From the ground up.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3637044/review-new-setting-cant-save-tremors-shrieker-island-feeling-like-old-routine/

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