An incredibly underrated concept thriller
This review comes from my Letterboxd page, where I review all of the movies that I see.
Barely anybody ever talks about this movie anymore. Heck, the only mention I've ever heard of it was Chris Stuckmann briefly talking about it in his Rupture review, and the only reason I decided to watch it was because a discussion of the condition of arachnophobia on a Matthias Dope or Nope video churned my memory and inspired me to check it out. I watched it, not knowing what I was getting myself into. I finished watching it and I came here to Letterboxd, shocked by the number of three star reviews this movie has. Seriously?! Three stars?! Because of all of these factors, I think I am willing to say that in my personal opinion, Arachnophobia is one of the most underrated movies of all time.
In all honesty, a thriller about spiders is such a great idea. I'm sure a lot of people used spiders as a vehicle for terror in earlier movies, but I have a feeling this is the first time anyone has tried to make a realistic thriller centered around these guys. The more I watched this movie, the more I realized why spiders that have such an urge to bite can be so terrifying: they're small and hard to focus on, they can move somewhat fast, and sometimes you don't even know they're there until it's too late. Now, I'm by no means arachnophobic. I actually even like spiders. However, this movie captures the feelings of arachnophobia so well and makes the spiders so terrifying that I found myself locking up and darting my eyes around looking for spiders much like our main character at many points throughout the movie.
This movie never lets its guard down and never wastes its time. You go from an intense sequence involving these spiders to various pans and close-ups that make you wonder if a spider is around and when it could pop up to character moments that let you calm down a bit but still focus on the story to more intense sequences involving spiders and on and on and on. This movie never feels like it's wasting time or dragging scenes on for too long. It always has something to keep your attention, and that's what I loved so much about it. Seriously, the close-ups on the actual spiders are terrifying at times, and the unexpected pans down prepare you for a spider to come out of nowhere only to show you that there is no spider. Never before have I seen the direction and editing of a film so perfectly capture the feeling of its title, but Arachnophobia absolutely did. This movie is really good at subverting your expectations. There are a few false jumpscares here and there, but even those false jumpscares serve the plot really well and don't feel unneccesary. There were a lot of moments in this film that genuinely surprised me, and I loved that about this movie.
Jeff Daniels is engaging all the way through. There's a character at the beginning who is played by someone who really reminded me of Daniels, and I found myself wondering for a while if it was actually him and I just wouldn't recognize him 30 years before the earliest piece of media I've seen him in (the first episode of The Newsroom). However, once he actually does show up, I completely sympathized with his character and cared a ton about him. The rest of the acting is really good, too, although John Goodman as an exterminator really doesn't have very clear diction at some points in this movie. Besides that, though, I was completely on board with all of these performances, and despite that diction problem, I still found Goodman as hilarious and as great as he always is.
You do have to suspend your disbelief a little bit by the time you get to the climax, but once you do, you're in for a 20-minute sequence of non-stop thrills with a crescendo that literally made me so tense I think I'm still shaking a little just after watching this movie. I really want to give this thing five stars, but I do have some flaws with it. I mention Goodman's diction and some suspension of disbelief problems, but I also wanted to mention that even though the character scenes are still overall engaging, there are times where the pacing does lag a bit. I know I said this movie doesn't waste any time and I still don't feel like it does, but when you're watching this movie for the very first time and the momentum stops for a little while to develop the characters, it can feel a little slow. That's a problem that I think will be fixed upon second viewing, though, so I don't think it's that big of a deal.
There are a couple of small jumpy edits in this movie and there are a couple of smaller characters that probably could have benefitted from a little more development, but aside from those issues, Arachnophobia is a completely thrilling time with great characters, fantastic direction, an authentic screenplay, a creative use of its premise, and an amazing sense of tension. Seriously, if you haven't seen Arachnophobia, I say give it a chance. You might be surprised by what you find. Just DO NOT watch it under any circumstances if you ACTUALLY have arachnophobia. Even though I don't know what arachnophobia truly feels like, experiencing it like I did through the main character in this movie is enough for me. If I like spiders and I was still terrified of the spiders in this movie, people who legitimately hate spiders are probably going to be traumatized for the rest of their lives after seeing this movie. If you do have arachnophobia and you decide to see this movie, please just be careful.
Letter Grade: A