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by Susan Ryant

There’s no pretense with  Crabs!  It makes it abundantly clear upfront exactly what type of movie it is and the entertainment it aims to deliver. And it aims to be a low-brow horror-comedy that wears its influences on its sleeves, embracing a Troma-like spirit while saluting and lovingly spoofing beloved cult classics. Its precise type of manic energy and lo-fi style likely works best with a midnight crowd in need of a light-hearted, gory schlockfest.

Writer/Director  Pierce Berolzheimer  hits the ground running with a quick setup that whizzes through a visual explanation for horseshoe crabs running amok in a small coastal town on the cusp of celebrating prom night. Beyond power plant failures that render swarms of horseshoe crabs into monstrous carnivores,  Crabs!  refuses to dwell on logic, let alone give its audience a moment to digest information flung at warped speed.

At the center of the chaos is disabled teen Phillip ( Dylan Riley Snyder ), his best friend slash love interest Maddie ( Allie Jennings ), Phillip’s older brother Hunter ( Bryce Durfee ), and Maddie’s mom Annalise ( Jessica Morris ). Annalise doubles as the hot science teacher everyone covets. Oh, and then there’s Radu ( Chase Padgett ), a foreign exchange student with a personality and accent so all over the place that it’s impossible to pin down this wacky, puerile character. Radu exemplifies the entire feature’s kitchen-sink approach, hoping at least some jokes land amidst the gag onslaught.

While Snyder and Jennings play their characters with a sweet innocence that helps ground the antics somewhat, it’s not until Berolzheimer lets loose with his creatures that  Crabs!  finds its groove. The eponymous creatures evolve in scope, size, and bloodlust by using an alternating mix of rough, lo-fi VFX, puppets, and rubber-suited monsters. Once prom night hits, it’s party time for the ravenous horde. It presents many silly and gory moments, including a deadlier version of  Gremlins ’ iconic bar scene. The movie is at its best when the creatures get to wreak havoc.

At some point,  Crabs!  pauses for a moment to explain that, yes, it knows that horseshoe crabs aren’t technically crabs. It’s an almost fourth wall break type of joke that lets the viewer know that this isn’t a film that cares about rules, reasoning, or good taste. That’s apparent on every level, even down to throwaway lines of dialogue or visual references. Berolzheimer just tosses it all in a kaiju seafood blender.

Crabs!  doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it doesn’t bother trying. Radu overstays his welcome quickly, too, with a random end credit theme song as an exception. But  Crabs! leans into its low budget and uses that in its favor. It wants to provide a nonsensical time at the movies, never meant to be taken seriously. It has all the finesse of a sledgehammer, delivering nonstop blunt force humor that will either alienate viewers or reluctantly win them over. The cheeky, gremlin-like monsters and their equally fun next stages of evolution nudge it toward crowd-pleaser.