Tremors: Shrieker Island (2020)

OCTOBER 20, 2020


I more or less enjoyed the first three Tremors sequels, but not enough to race to see the subsequent followups (Bloodlines and A Cold Day In Hell) when Universal relaunched the property about five years back. And normally I try not to skip entries of a franchise when reviewing, but I was offered a code for the newest movie Tremors: Shrieker Island and figured I could make an exception since I knew from experience that it wouldn't be like I'd be trying to follow Saw-level continuity. I looked at the Wiki entries for those two I missed (or, more accurately, didn't see) and got the basic gist of them, and from what I can tell the only character here that was in any prior entry was, of course, Michael Gross' Burt Gummer, who has been the only consistent presence for the series and thus I already knew plenty about him.

Except, I guess, why he is given a Tom Hanks in Cast Away appearance (long white beard, practically nude) and living on an island in solitude when we first meet him here, though it doesn't matter much since he shaves and gets clothes in his next scene, returning him to status quo. But it takes a while to get to him, as it starts with a group of "weekend warrior" (Silicon Valley rich guys) on a hunt led by Richard Brake, whose casting informs us that the character will be a human antagonist at some point. If I'm understanding, people pay him to lead them on a graboid hunt (one seemingly requiring Thailand locals as bait to lure the monsters to where the hunters have set up their guns, a subplot of zero consequence after this opening scene), and in the spirit of Jurassic World he's started genetically modifying them to make the hunts more exciting. Some science types nearby find out what he's up to and worry that his monsters will start breeding and spread, so naturally they call the only person that can stop them: Valentine McKee. Wait, no. Earl Bassett. No, that's not right either...

OK, obviously they call Burt, but to the movie's credit Val and Earl are given a mention when Burt opts to steal their move and lure one to a cliffside so it can plummet to its death. The folks behind Tremors 3 seemed to recognized that maybe people wanted more than just one character to return (Tremors 4, being a prequel, didn't have the luxury), but it seems that these new entries are content with just bringing back Michael Gross, who continues giving 110% even though he's now in his 70s and probably not to keen to be running around in jungles and getting orange goo splattered all over him. However, they also apparently didn't bother bringing back anyone from those other two entries, which is fine for me since I didn't see them anyway, but probably annoying to series fans who might want a little more connective tissue between films (apparently Val's daughter was in the last one - why not bring her along?). Being DTV entries the budget for monster action isn't exactly plentiful, so it seems the least Universal can do is bring back this or that character (along with Burt) to make up for the fact that you practically never see the damn graboids, with the "ground breaks upward in a line" move doing 95% of the heavy lifting.

But in a way, they also brought back Jamie Kennedy's Travis character from the last two films, in the form of a "new" character, Jimmy, played by Jon Heder. I say "new" because... it's clearly just Travis. Jamie Kennedy posted a picture of the script being sent to him along with his announcement that he wasn't returning, so obviously they were planning on having him return, but they clearly didn't spend a lot of time rewriting once they learned he wouldn't be coming back. Because not only do they look similar (as if they possibly already had the wardrobe bought and needed someone the same size) but Burt has a strangely quick camaraderie with him after they meet, and risks his life more than once to save the dummy, i.e. like a guy protecting his hapless son instead of some rando. And it stretches beyond that; Jimmy is introduced hungover and botching a scientific field experiment, something his boss Jas (Caroline Langrishe) seems oddly OK with, even offering him some coffee to help with his hangover. This had me thinking the woman was perhaps Jimmy's mother, only to find out later that the character was actually *Travis'* mother! And to be clear, I didn't know anything about the late casting requirement until after I watched the movie and looked into it - it's just how blatantly obvious it is.

Honestly I don't know why they didn't just say it was the son character and recast; it's not like they'd be the first movie to replace an actor, and for my money it's far less bothersome than saying it's a new character and using him in the exact same way (shades of George Hamilton (technically not) playing Robert Duvall's role in Godfather III, or Jason Patric's character in Speed 2 *just happening* to have the same job/boss as Keanu). Travis is said to be in a Mexican jail for bringing some peyote over the border, which along with Jimmy having to introduce himself to his not-father seems to be the only effort they spent establishing the difference between the two people. Travis' own mother doesn't seem too concerned about him being in jail either, yet is often motherly with Jimmy, which just makes it even clearer how little time was spent reworking the script once Kennedy backed out.

Anyway, Gummer is called back into action, at which point the whole "Shrieker Island" concept is largely forgotten, with the hunters just being some randos that get wiped out almost all at once (per the wiki, the film is supposed to be a take on Most Dangerous Game! Perhaps it was at one point and it got rewritten to the point of being irrelevant?). The only one of the group who leaves any kind of impression (beyond Brake) is Cassie Clare as Anna, Brake's right hand who is dressed as Lara Croft for some reason and clearly the most competent person besides Burt. She's the only one who ever stands up to Brake's sliminess and (big surprise) ultimately breaks rank to help Burt and the others, proving handy with her bow and arrow and such (though, like just about everyone else, doesn't really get much to do when it comes to direct graboid action). Weirdly, Brake's villainy is basically limited to shutting down communications, leaving Burt and the science types unable to call for help; after being introduced as a major player he's largely resigned to being more of an extra headache that Burt and co. occasionally have to deal with. Odder still, he's out of the movie with like a half hour left on top of it, in a very abrupt (it seems to be missing the first half of the scene, in fact) and unsatisfying manner. It's Billy Drago in Tremors 4 all over again!

In fact, it almost feels like they meshed two scripts together; one about Burt and his son helping some scientist types, and the other about a group of hunters ending up uncovering monsters instead of whatever normal game they planned to go up against, with one (Brake) going nuts while the other (Anna) takes charge and tries to save the amateurs. And I use the generic "monsters" because there's something else "off" about the scenes with Brake and his crew - they're very un-Tremors like, as if that script wasn't intended to be a franchise entry. There's no humor or levity at all, the characters are all joyless, and their interactions with Burt and his pals are so limited they might as well have been written on the same napkin they used to create "Jimmy". And it's not helped by the direction of Don Michael Paul (whose entire career for the past decade has been DTV Universal sequels, including the previous two Tremors), who films/cuts everything as if it was some Michael Bay-lite adventure film. The jungle setting is different, but rarely used for anything of note, especially since the graboids appear so intermittently (though the FX aren't too bad when they do appear though, so I'll give them some props for that).

Don't get me wrong - it's a perfectly watchable (if a bit long) movie, and I wasn't exactly expecting a masterpiece out of Tremors 7, but there was a bit too much of a "going through the motions" vibe to it, and I can't help but think that feeling will be intensified for the people who have watched the previous ones. I watched Tremors 4 in 2009, so apart from a drive-in screening of the original over the summer (one I missed two big chunks of due to the bathroom line and my beer-filled bladder) I haven't seen any Graboid fare in over a decade - why am I getting so much deja vu? There's a fun chunk in the middle somewhere where the heroes find themselves with no conventional/modern weapons and have to make do with what they find in an old bunker, and at that point I could feel myself getting into it, but then they set off an explosion, killing a graboid we don't ever actually see, and my interest waned again. And without spoiling the particulars, I can't imagine any longtime fan of the series will be thrilled with what seems like Tremors 8 will have to deal with, so I can't help but wonder if they should have left it alone, or at least let Burt sit the movie out entirely and let people who didn't know exactly what a Graboid was (and in turn how to kill it) find their own ways of surviving, like a soft reset. Or, you know, just gone ahead and went with the TV series that would have brought Kevin Bacon back. Still not sure how they bungled that one. Instead they made... this. A movie I'm already having trouble remembering a few hours later. Oh well.

What say you?

* From what I understand thanks to the wiki of Tremors 5, it was suggested there that Travis was the result of a one night stand, but here Burt and Jas seem to have had a genuine relationship, so I'm not sure if that's a retcon or just an assumption on the Wiki writer. Either way, it just adds to the problem with Kennedy's absence, as it's clearly supposed to be a "hey the whole family is together for the first time" kinda deal.


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