Considering the popularity of monster movies being rekindled by Godzilla versus Kong (2021), the newest entry into the ‘MonsterVerse’, the classic approach to this genre may be coming into a new golden era. With my love of these films spanning multiple regions and eras, I am always interested in new titles that are released that are unabashed to tread new waters.
Abyssal Spider (2020) is a Taiwanese monster / disaster thriller, written and directed by Joe Chein with additional writing from Nelson Yan. Joe Chein is most notable for writing and directing B-grade horrors such as Call of the Undead (2012) and Zombie Fight Club (2014). The film is Joe Chein’s biggest so far, securing a budget of around 100,000,000 New Taiwanese Dollars (around 350,000 US Dollars).
What is it?
Whilst conducting a rescue mission aboard a freight ship illegally transporting nuclear waste, an accident caused by Jie’s impatience results in the death of his team captain. Jie, suffering from guilt, quits and leaves his wife and new-born to become a drunkard. After several years wallowing, he decides to do better by his daughter and manages to get a second chance aboard a fishing vessel owned by his ex-father-in-law, much to the disdain of the other crewman.
The crew are torn between living an honest, albeit poor, life as fishermen or delivering illegal packages for greater riches. As tension between these two groups grows into violence, bloodshed and munity, the ship is attacked by a giant spider from the murky depths, mutated by the spilled nuclear waste. Now a fight for survival ensues, will the two groups work together against a common enemy or tear themselves apart in the pursuit of greed?
Abyssal Spider is more of a nod to vintage monster movies from the west rather than the epic Kaiju films of the east. Having a fixed narrative organically include the monster instead of the story being a framing device for Behemoth fighting action is rarely seen outside of the west.
The film has a heavy focus on story driven narrative, with characters actions being deeply motivated by past interactions between characters, all of them having their own principles or lack thereof. Additionally, holding the monsters main appearance until the last 40 minutes worked in the films favour, allowing for internal tensions of the story to have a lasting effect throughout.
Abyssal Spider has takes major influence from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). Specifically, the fishing vessels’ tight corridors reflect the interior of the USCSS Nostromo and its claustrophobic environment. Furthermore, the addition of a slime-like substance as a revelation tool also lends itself to the sci-fi classic.
The titular monsters, though being mostly CGI effects, are incredibly detailed. Being extremely smoothly animated, the creature’s movement is akin to how an actual arachnid would be. The inclusion of small details, with each limb covered in barnacles, lends the feeling of the creature’s existence in the ocean.
The film’s use of music impeccably denotes each scene, ramping up the tension with its classical score and the inclusion of more unorthodox sound usages, solidifying the oppressive atmosphere aboard.
What Didn’t Work?
The shaky action camera angles can be somewhat disorientating when combined with the claustrophobic environment of inside the ship, their use outside on the deck is a little less problematic for those who suffer from motion sickness.
Caution! Some spoilers ahead
The film has a number of plot holes throughout; barely mentioning the nuclear waste material on the sinking ship at the start of the film, the lack of reaction or attention to a crew mate being found dead and wrapped in spider web atop the ship, as well as a few other facts being dumped on the viewer. It would have helped the story if these things were more naturally introduced into the story rather than the info being dumped on the audience haphazardly.
The monster’s actual size has been somewhat misled by the poster art attached to the film. Shown as a huge entity stalking behind the ship on the poster, the spider is in actuality a lot smaller, closer to a similar height to a human (still a terrifying concept, just not what was promised to me).
Abyssal Spider is, in all, a mixed bag of an experience. It has its problems in the writing department but it was an enjoyable way to spend one hour and forty minutes. If you can look past the plot holes, the monster’s style and design is ambitious and well executed. Furthermore, the story has tension, building on that foundation adequately throughout.
I would recommend the film to die-hard monster film fanatics as an interesting take on the genre but may not be as enjoyable for the average film fan. I would rate the film 2.5 spooky ghosts out of 5. If it wasn’t for the blatant plot errors, I might have considered a higher rating but the film was still a fun, entertaining experience regardless.