Nobody asked for a Very Hungry Caterpillar live-action remake, least of all one directed by James Gunn. A bug’s journey from egg to binge-eater to butterfly doesn’t exactly scream high cinema. But Gunn’s Caterpillar isn’t interested in apples or chocolate cake or the meticulous, childlike brushstrokes of a painted salami. This movie is many things, but a stroll down memory lane isn’t one of them. It’s a motherfucking gorefest.
Listen, it’s not like I have a weak stomach. I review film for a living. I can sit through the entire Saw series and The Boss Baby: Family Business without batting an eye. But Caterpillar has so much gnawing and crunching you’ll forget at times the source material was a children’s book.
The film opens just as you’d expect: a lone egg sits on a moonlit leaf. A baby caterpillar emerges. He yawns—freaking adorable, not at all homicidal. Our not-yet-hungry caterpillar wanders around his leaf until he reaches a glass wall, which he climbs. The audience gasps. He was born in a terrarium! Free at last, he stumbles upon what appears to be a half-eaten Wendy’s Seasonal Summer Strawberry Salad. Even though he doesn’t have a nose, he sniffs the air, drawn to the closest strawberry like a shark to chum. He begins to eat.
A dewy Elle Fanning appears in a lab coat. “Professor,” she asks, “what is that thing?”
“That,” says Tom Hanks. “Is a very hungry caterpillar.”
To avoid unnecessary spoilers, I’ll end the plot summary there. I also can’t seem to remember anything after the second act, which my therapist says is my brain’s way of protecting itself. Let’s just say the pacing really picks up after the caterpillar develops a taste for blood. The past few nights, I’ve woken in a pool of sweat and the conviction that a hundred-foot CGI cater-monster (voiced by Vin Diesel) is hiding under my bed.
While Diesel lends his voice to the titular caterpillar, it’s Gunn’s brother Sean (Gilmore Girls, Guardians of the Galaxy) who provides the motion-capture performance for the creature. It occurs to me this means there’s behind-the-scenes footage of Sean in a green bodysuit inch-worming across a scale model of New York City, pretending to gobble civilians by the mouthful. James, if you’re reading this, do not release that footage. We’re in a global pandemic. The people have been through enough.
To the fans who have given the film its cult-following: I pity you, but I cannot save you. You’re too far gone. You have proven yourself unworthy of existing within modern society. Society, to preserve itself, must shun you in turn. Any moviegoer who can happily munch popcorn while the Very Hungry Caterpillar munches the bones of the innocent is not welcome among the civilized. I was seated beside such a man—I smelled his buttery flesh firsthand—and will never forget the hungry, hopeful look in his eye when the movie ended and he whispered the phrase, “mid-credit scene.” For the record, I did not stick around to watch the mid-credit scene, but I heard what sounded like the slow torture of a thousand Roborovski hamsters shrieking through the speakers as I left.
I should have never brought my nephew to the press screening. I know what you’re thinking, but the film was unrated at the time, and the invitation said to bring our families. I’m begging you: learn from my mistakes. If you do decide to see Caterpillar, bring a strong stomach and a comfort item like a stuffed animal or bottle of Xanax.
But for the love of God and Eric Carle, leave the children at home.