April 5, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Clayton Whitmer
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed North Carolina town, the sci-fi-/horror film “The Arbors” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A locksmith finds a strange spider-like creature, which escapes and wreaks deadly havoc on a small suburban city.
Culture Audience: “The Arbors” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching dull low-budget horror movies with too many plot holes.
Somewhere in the boring and pointless horror movie “The Arbors,” the filmmakers seem to be trying to draw a parallel between a mysterious spider-like creature and a lifetime of loneliness experienced by the quiet locksmith who finds this creature that ends up killing people. But it all gets muddled by a nonsensical plot where this main character who’s supposed to be sympathetic ends up acting in horrendous and selfish ways. If viewers can get through watching this whole movie without falling asleep, they’ll find the ending to be so disappointing that sleeping through it would be a much better option.
“The Arbors” is the feature-film directorial debut of Clayton Whitmer, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Chelsey Cummings. Whitmer definitely paid attention to details when it comes to creating a spooky atmosphere for the movie, which has the right music in the right places. The movie’s cinematography is a little too dark and dreary, but it’s a reflection of the main character’s personality. The actors give mediocre performances, while the visual effects are quite good for a low-budget film. However, the story is a sluggishly paced, dimwitted mess, and it ruins the movie.
The film’s main character is Ethan Daunes (played by Drew Matthews), an introverted bachelor in his late 20s. He works the night shift for a 24-hour locksmith company called System Secure Locksmithing in an unnamed small town in North Carolina. Ethan lives alone in a rented house, which is owned by his next-door neighbor Nick Birman (played by John S. Rushton), a single father who lives with his bratty teenage son Alex Birman (played by Noah Lewis). How bratty is Alex? He throws rocks at Ethan’s mailbox and doesn’t seem the least bit sorry about it when Ethan asks Alex to stop doing it.
One night, while driving on a deserted road after helping a woman unlock her car, Ethan sees about four people dressed in white hazmat suits in a field on the left side of the road. As he passes them, he notices that the people in the hazmat suits seem to be looking for something in the grass by using what looks like lighted metal detectors. Viewers of “The Arbors” will see these hazmat suit people again in one of the dumbest scenes in the movie.
It’s revealed at one point in the movie that Ethan and his younger brother Shane Daunes (played by Ryan Davenport) have lived in the same town their entire lives. Ethan and Shane’s parents (who are now deceased) split up when Ethan and Shane were children. Their father abandoned the family, and this rejection left some emotional scars on Ethan. Ethan is normally not very talkative, but there’s a scene in the movie where Ethan leaves a rambling message (at least five minutes) on Shane’s voicemail, talking about his painful childhood memories.
Shane, who works in construction, lives with his wife Lynn (played by Lexi Rose, also known as Alexandra Rose) and their daughter Robin (played by Sarah Cochran), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Shane and Lynn seem to be happily married and have a stable home. However, there’s some tension between Ethan and Shane.
Viewers will get the feeling that Ethan is a little jealous that Shane has his own family, while Ethan is all alone. At one point in the movie, Ethan mentions that Shane used to look up to him when they were children because Shane used to think that Ethan had all the answers. And now, the roles are reversed, because Shane seems to be the brother who’s got his life together, while Ethan seems to be deeply unhappy.
Early on in the movie, Lynn invites Ethan to a dinner party, but he shows up very late and all the party guests have already left. Ethan said he overslept, but it seems like he was consciously or subconsciously avoiding seeing the other people he knew would be at the party. Shane gives Ethan a new flashlight that he says Robin picked out for him.
Ethan gives Shane a miniature toy soldier (about two inches tall) from a childhood board game they used to have called Out of Time! Shane asks where the rest of the game is, and Ethan says that it must’ve gotten lost when they moved. Shane doesn’t seem to really care about this memento from the past, because shortly after Ethan gives him this toy soldier, Ethan finds that Shane has dropped it on the floor.
What is the significance of this toy soldier? Not much except that it’s eventually shown that Ethan kept the Out of Time! game all along. And the toy soldier keeps showing up in random places, such as the front seat of Ethan’s car. It’s an example of some things in the movie that seem to have significance to the plot but actually don’t.
While driving home from his work shift one early morning (around 4 a.m.), Ethan has to stop his car because there’s a dead deer in the middle of the road and it’s blocking the car’s path. He puts on some gloves and steps out of the car to remove the deer, when he notices a small creature moving inside a hole inside the deer corpse. Ethan is a little frightened but also intrigued.
He immediately calls Shane to ask him to come out and see this strange creature. But Ethan accidentally calls Lynn’s phone instead. She answers and tells him that Shane is asleep and whatever Ethan has to show Shane can wait until later in the day. And so, Ethan takes the dead deer home and puts it in his garage.
On closer inspection, Ethan sees the creature moving inside the corpse again and takes a pair of pliers to remove it. It looks like a black oversized spider that screeches like a wild insect. Ethan puts this strange creature in a cage-styled cat carrier and leaves some raw meat for the creature to eat. Several hours later, Ethan notices that the creature has eaten some of the meat and has nearly chewed open the carrier.
Ethan then decides that the creature needs to be put in a more secure container, so he decides on a locked wooden box. He reaches into the carrier and, like a fool, doesn’t have his hands protected. The creature bites Ethan’s right hand severely, causing a deep gash on the palm of the hand. Ethan manages to put the creature in the box, but his hand is wounded enough where he has to wear a bandage for the rest of the time that this story takes place over several days.
In one of many illogical plot developments, Ethan never does show Shane this creature. He tries to tell Shane about it but then decides not to go into details. Ethan will only tell Shane that he saw something unusual on the road, but that what he saw turned out to be nothing. And one night, Ethan finds out that the creature has chewed its way out of the wooden box and escaped into a nearby wooded area. It isn’t long before the creature starts killing people, beginning with Ethan’s teenage neighbor Alex.
At this point, no one knows that Ethan found this deadly creature, and Ethan certainly can’t be blamed for Alex’s death. But that doesn’t stop Ethan from panicking when he finds Alex’s body on his front lawn. Instead of calling the police, Ethan brings Alex’s body into his garage, dismembers it, and buries it. It’s one of many stupid things that happen in this movie.
The rest of the movie is a monotonous repetition of people getting killed while Ethan does nothing to warn anyone about the creature on the loose. The creature ends up growing an enormous size (about the size of an elephant) with gigantic jaws, but the filmmakers of “The Arbors” want viewers to believe that somehow the creature remains undetected by burying itself in the ground and in a hole in an abandoned house. When the creature kills people, it usually leaves corpses at a place where the bodies can be found. Other times, the creature drags the body away and the person ends up “missing.”
And there’s more than one scene in the movie where Ethan witnesses the creature kill people, but the creature doesn’t touch Ethan, who’s in close proximity. Viewers are supposed to figure out that somehow the creature, which attacked Ethan when it was small enough to fit in a box, somehow changed its mind about Ethan and decided not to kill him but murder other people. You get the feeling that if the filmmakers wanted to, they could’ve made the creature pat Ethan on the head with its tentacles. It would be just another in a long list of moronic things about this movie.
The supposed kinship that the creature has with Ethan is just so ridiculous, because at no point in the movie is there anything to indicate that Ethan and the creature bonded in such a way that the creature decided to show mercy on Ethan. And don’t expect to get an explanation of where this creature came from or why it ended up in a random dead deer in North Carolina. Ethan doesn’t care to try to find out either, but in between his moping around, he spends his time trying to pretend to everyone that everything is normal in his life.
There’s a useless subplot about Ethan’s ex-girlfriend from high school coming back to this hometown to visit for a few days. Her name is Connie Tern (played by Daryl Munroe), and her only purpose in the movie is to keep asking Ethan to leave with her. She seems to think that if Ethan doesn’t leave, he’ll rot in the stifling boredom of living in this small town, even though Connie has no idea what Ethan could do with his life if he ran off with her.
Ethan also has a co-worker named Brody Capra (played by Brooks Addis), who’s around the same age as Ethan. When Ethan requests some time off from work to secretly try to find the creature, Ethan asks Brody to cover for him on his work shift. There’s some horrible editing in the movie where a scene shifts abruptly to Ethan crawling in a dirt tunnel, which leads to an abandoned house where a creature attack occurs. There’s no explanation for how or why Ethan ended up in this tunnel.
One of the worst things about “The Arbors” is that Ethan does some despicable things, in order to throw suspicion off of himself, so that no one will think he’s the one going around killing people. There’s a scene where Ethan witnesses some people getting killed by the creature. And when he finds out that one of the attack victims is alive but severely injured, Ethan does nothing to help that person and leaves the person to die. Ethan does something else in the movie that’s even worse, which will make viewers despise him even more.
And let’s not get into all the other plot holes, such as the fact that medical examinations would be able to determine that a very large animal, not a human, was causing these killings. And therefore, there should be no reason for Ethan to be so paranoid that he will be blamed for these deaths. There’s also a vigilante subplot, which is also very stupid.
“The Arbors” could have been a better movie if it didn’t have so many asinine things about this badly conceived story. The filmmakers go overboard in trying to manipulate sympathy for “The Arbors” main character, by making him a sad and lonely person with “abandonment issues” when it comes to his family. The only thing that people watching “The Arbors” should abandon is any hope that this story is told in an interesting and coherent way.
Gravitas Ventures released “The Arbors” on digital and VOD on March 26, 2021.