Gremlins ★★★½

Not dark enough to be a true horror film and not magical enough to be true fantasy, Joe Dante’s “Gremlins” is a problematic but entertaining genre bender. The now-iconic film, with an even more iconic pedigree, lacks the narrative or tonal balance to be truly excellent even if it remembered as such. Still, parts of the film work very well, and it easily earns much of the respect given it.

Taking place in the bucolic burgh of Kingston Falls, “Gremlins” revolves around the local citizenry, besieged by reptilian monstrosities birthed from a friendly Mogwai named Gizmo. Purchased at a mysterious shop in an inspecific China town, Gizmo, through no fault of his own, gives rise to beasts that annoy, frustrate, and, ultimately, terrorize the town.

“Gremlins” could have been a token monster movie, but Chris Columbus’ script has intentions to do more. The film introduces interesting characters, a homey hometown, and a lovable creature before leaping into fits of violence and mean-spirited mayhem that undoes the good that came before it. In the interest of special effects and gooey jolts, characters and burgeoning plot arcs are forgotten. The narrative ends up feeling like two disparate halves shoved together with necessary connective tissue left on the cutting room floor.

Dante, under the watchful eye of Steven Spielberg, puts together something that starts out strong. Kingston Falls is rich with holiday charm and character archetypes that reflects film favorites of the past. Parts are neatly cast, special effects are solid enough, and the Jerry Goldsmith’s score works to evoke something whimsical but with dark edges. Those edges, however, soon enough become dominant as the film, like its story, turn a corner into violence and rubbery carnage; and that turn is whiplash inducing.

In an attempt to wed movieland fable and monster flick, “Gremlins” may not be as effective as its creators intended. The whimsy does not serve the mayhem, and the violence is undercut by the film’s initial lightness. Despite this, the film still entertains and contains its share of memorable moments. The film feels completely out of sorts, but it manages to be enjoyable, nonetheless.

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