Ron Underwood's first feature film
, 1990's Tremors
set the tone for the cynical, paranoid years to follow
. The twisted humor and helplessness of the citizens of Perfection, Nevada
, as they watch neighbors get chomped and their town gets pulled out from under them by the graboid
s, reminds us of our own embattled psyches as friends died too young, our retirement plans
were killed in infancy, and the foundations of our youthful sanity were ripped apart by our own inner, many-tongued worm monsters
during that wretched decade. In the simple completeness of the film--Kevin Bacon
's finest work, to be sure--we have identified various aspects of ourselves and our demon
s, and achieved a model of the stable mind as it copes with the unstable world
Taking Perfection's characters as an amalgam--the cockiness of Val McKee (Bacon), the more wise but less self-assured Earl Bassett (Fred Ward), the rationality of Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter), the double-barreled force of the Gummers (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire), the greed of Walter Chang (Victor Wang)--we can draw a picture of the truly complete individual. Let us call him Perfectoid, and see how he copes with the ills that beset him. His parts will work together to survive, though some of them must die in the fight to rid his subconscious of underground...goddamn...monsters.
Val is the young and reckless one, whose reflex and preference for action over thought save the girl and ultimately everyone as he kills Stumpy, the toughest graboid. He is cocksure and of course has unrealistic standards when it comes to women: "You will have long blonde hair, big green eyes, world class breasts, ass that won't quit and legs that go aaallll the way up." He is restless youth, that part of Perfectoid who sees nothing between him and a better life but the balls to go grab it.
Earl tempers Val with experience--"Dammit, Valentine, I was in a stampede once." Though not the brainiest of the crew, Earl reminds Perfectoid of the importance of having a plan, repeatedly. He even goes so far as to recognize the graboids' ability to plan an attack. Not that Earl can always come up with a plan--he is Perfectoid's calmer and more experienced machismo, tough but somewhat contemplative: "I'm betting on outer space. No way these are local boys." Earl's seen enough to know the earthly dangers.
Poor Rhonda brings book learning and rational thought to Perfectoid, somewhat derided for being different, but counted on to answer the tough questions. The less logical parts turn to her without questioning the means--Val and Earl, for example, simply take her word for it when she begins to explain the existence of three additional graboids beyond the first one they kill. Characters in a lesser film would have doubted and second-guessed the egghead till somebody else got eaten. But Perfectoid recognizes Rhonda as a necessary component to aid and guide his gut instincts, even when she doesn't have the answer. Her protests, of course, go unnoticed: "Why does everyone keep asking me?" It is she who recognizes the graboids' method of finding their prey--the sound waves or "tremors" they sense--but it's up to the action-oriented players to put that knowledge to use.
We see in Burt and Heather Gummer the dual nature of our predilection for brute force. She is calmly accepting of the notion that force can solve problems, while he takes an almost childlike joy in vanquishing foes through superior firepower: "Guess you broke into the wrong goddamn rec room, didn't ya!" We recognize in them our need to fear and loathe the socialists, the cults, the damn ceaseless yipping of our neighbor's dog; our need to avail ourselves of the means to destroy them. However, the Gummers' preparedness for the apocalypse, though useful, is actually nothing like Earl's desire to adapt the plan to new information. When confronted with something they didn't expect, they are nearly destroyed: "Food for five years, a thousand gallons of gas, air filtration, water filtration, Geiger counter, bomb shelter. Underground...goddamn...monsters."
Walter is greed, pure and simple. The desire in each of us to profit from the misfortunes of others, our sick ability to ignore the dangers to ourselves in the process. Though likable and able to be generous at need--giving Rhonda new pants and shoes when she's stripped escaping a graboid--he ultimately was predestined to get thrown to the wolves for taking advantage of Val and Earl's naivete.
And little Melvin is simply that asshole part of Perfectoid that exists to annoy everyone else. We all have it, but it's too precious a reminder of our misspent youth to destroy--we must keep him alive to punish him, by giving him an unloaded gun to fight the monsters, by covering him with the guts of an exploded graboid.
The other characters--survivors and victims alike--are the miscellaneous flotsam of Perfectoid's crowded soul. Some are useless, or never seen alive in the film, the many discarded childhood indignities we no longer recognize on a conscious level. The doctor and his wife, certainly, are our hopes for a better future, living in comfort among natural beauty beneath a wide sky, and it's no mistake they get killed early.
Whether we recognized it at the time or not, those of us who came into our inheritance during those foul years of the 1990s have lived the plot of Underwood's masterpiece. We were bold, we were witty, and...many of us survived. We've routed out our youthful graboids, we've slain the beasts that lurked just below the surface threatening to consume us whole, agonizingly. For now at least. There will be the inevitable sequels, but the luster will be gone, Perfectoid will be less whole, and we'll waddle into our dotages witnessing friends' disappearances with less compassion.
For reasons that will most likely never be made clear, I saw this film at least six times in a six-month period last year. Once at a bar. Couple times in various stoned-out laugh-fests around the circuit as I traveled and mooched off friends. Other times in late-night motel rooms, and once during a nasty, shaky detox in Tampa, Fla.