Set, like so many of these films are, in a small town where everyone knows everyone, ‘Crabs!’ begins with a jokingly ominous shot of horseshoe crabs (which are not technically crabs because they are not crustaceans, rather members of the subphylum Chelicerata, a point that the film actually includes presumably to please the taxonomic nerds out there) scuttling towards a nuclear power station. Small scuttly creatures encounter nuclear radiation? What could possibly go wrong? We quickly find out - this is not a film that wastes time on audiences not knowing the genre beats - as the film cuts to a young couple fucking on the beach. It’s so sexy! No, there’s sand everywhere, plus muck and seaweed and a crab that makes short, messy work of these two idiots. Berolzheimer lets his audience know what to expect with the graphic violence of this opening, delivered with a wicked sense of fun.
The principal characters of the film are standard outcasts: Philip McCalister (Dylan Riley Snyder), a paralysed teenager who is a tech wizard; Maddy Menrath (Allie Jennings), Philip’s best friend and fellow nerd who harbours a not-so-secret crush on him; Hunter (Bryce Durfee), Philip’s elder brother who has to be the parent because their parents died (ahoy, tragic backstory!); Annalise (Jessica Morris), Maddy’s mother who is also the high school’s unreasonably sexy and cool teacher; Radu (Chase Padgett), the foreign student who doesn’t really understand and proclaims his misunderstandings very loudly. Philip builds things in his parents’ workshop and orders a military-grade super battery to help his work, as you do. When the mutated crabs prove to be not only vicious and human-eating but also hyper intelligent (kinda like ‘Gremlins’), it’s up to smart nerds and their well-meaning if bumbling seniors to save the day.
As a monster film, ‘Crabs!’ does what it says on the shell, delivering some frantic if not especially tense set pieces such as when the high school prom is invaded by crabs who feast on the attendees and also take over the DJ’s turntables. Horseshoe crab DJ with a sinister chuckle? Sure, why not? It also follows the pattern of escalation, as bigger crab monsters appear that echoes the progression of ‘Aliens’ from face hugger to human-sized beasties, and a big queen/mother/kaiju situation in the final act. It doesn’t have the climate change conceit of ‘Sharknado’ (because that’s a sentence), but does have a nice line on the representation of differently-abled bodies and characters. It also has a knowingly stupid humour, such as a dissection sample for a biology class labelled: ‘DEAD CAT: DO NOT EAT’. It is also not afraid to go completely crabshit crazy, such as a montage where our heroes build something with various direct addresses to camera as they spout technobabble. And the final act where, well, see for yourself.
The film’s biggest misstep is the character of Radu. Look, a foreign student whose English is all over the place! Hilarious, right? No, it’s lazy, offensive and likely to take the viewer out of the film. While Radu proves important in surprising ways, he could have been handled more deftly. It may seem odd to complain about stereotypes in a film of this sort, but exploitation cinema has a history both of reinforcing and challenging stereotypes. In 2021, it seems deeply retrograde to see this reinforcement.
Aside from this depiction, ‘Crabs!’ is riotously enjoyable. Despite the cliches, there is genuine warmth and affection for the characters rather than making them obnoxious. You’ll likely find yourself rooting for their romance as much as their survival. At no point does it take itself too seriously and it delivers on the thrills and spills, seemingly inescapable peril, last minute saves and a smackdown that would make Haruo Nakajima (look him up) proud. And there’s even potential for a sequel. More crab, sir? Yes please!