Sci-fi and coming-of-age comedy tropes collide in Snatchers, which tackles teen pregnancy with an alien twist. Mary Nepi stars as Sara Steinberg, a high schooler who is desperate to be popular. So, she cold-shoulders her geeky bestie Hayley (Gabrielle Elyse), cozies up to her grade’s bitchy queen bee (Ashley Argota), and caves to the demands of her beefy boyfriend (a slyly hilarious Austin Fryberger) to have sex. It’s quick. It’s unsatisfying, and it was sure weird how he kept yelling “ouch.” But the morning after, Sara feels on top of the world. That is until she projectile vomits in front of a hall full of gawking classmates. Something strange is going on here. The following morning, Sara has a rude awakening, rising to see that overnight her belly has ballooned as if she’s nine-months pregnant!
Desperate to hide this mistake from her chipper single-mom (J.J. Nolan), Sara begs her abandoned bestie for advice. Hurt but still loyal, Hayley takes Sara to a free clinic, where a bible-thumping pro-life protester is the least of their worries. Early in act two, Sara’s “vag canon” spits out a vicious alien that’s hellbent on destruction. Still wearing her hospital gown, she and Hayley flee. But they’ll not only have to solve the mystery of how she’s become a cryptozoological cautionary tale, but also have to face down her bouncing baby beast in a suitably bonkers finale. Along the way, they’ll make a string of silly pit stops, collide with colorful characters like a stoned llama-caretaker, an arrogant hacker, a never-say-die deputy, and party-crash to save the world.
The story is totally out there, reminiscent of Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs with a splash of Barry Sonnenfeld-style sci-fi camp. Co-writers/co-directors Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman have a clear love for genre, relishing the opportunity to splash buckets of blood with outlandish kills, and to wrench mayhem and thrills out of a seamless blend of CGI and practical effects. There’s a gleefulness to the gore and horror as this creature feature tears apart a formerly quiet Arizona town. And amid much silliness, there are some solidly shocking scares, including the first kill of this blood-thirsty baby. Cedars, Kleiman, and co-writer Scott Yacyshyn also work in winking allusions to classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Gremlins, and even Mean Girls. For its sci-fi silliness alone I’d recommend this wacky horror-comedy. But what takes Snatchers from fun to fantastic is the heartfelt story at its core.
Like the heroines of great teen comedies like Clueless, Edge of Seventeen and Booksmart, Sara and Hayley are at a crossroads. Sara had the choice between playing Magic: The Gathering and staying true to her childhood bestie, or posturing to impress the popular girls and get a hot jock boyfriend. Choosing the latter not only transformed her into a mean girl but also the teen mom of a literal little monster. Her comeuppance is not only extreme and comical but also gives Sarah a chance to realize her mistakes and redeem herself. In some sense, Snatchers plays like an afterschool special on acid. But the friendship at its core grounds its out-of-this-world plot. Though they begin the movie estranged, Nepi and Elyse’s easy chemistry deftly displays how close Sara and Hayley once were. You feel their history in every exasperated eye-roll, exchanged glance, and goofy grin. And you root for them, whether their misadventures have you laughing or squealing. Best of all, they’re totally game to spin from bantering to bickering to butt-kicking.
All in all, Snatchers boldly blends suburban-weirdness, silly sci-fi, goofy gore, and tender teen comedy to create a movie that feels like Clueless meets Gremlins. Which means Snatchers a total blast.
Snatchers made its world premiere at SXSW.
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