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Stung-film-poster

Aren’t garden parties just the worst?! I mean, you spend all that time working on the perfect guest list, getting just the right mix of society’s finest together so that they can bask in the glory of each other’s existence and then you still have to hire the help, pick out the table arrangements, find suitable entertainment and be the supervisor (as if the caterers could actually be expected to know what they’re doing, the silly things!). Factor in worrying about the weather and making sure that the Mayor’s glass is always full and that’s a full-time job! And then…just when everything seems like it’s running smoothly…giant, mutant wasps show up and sting your guests in their faces! And they say the bourgeoisie have it easy!

As can probably be assumed from the above, first-time director Benni Diez’s Stung (2015) is, indeed, about a posh garden party that gets summarily wrecked by a horde of genetically-altered, over-sized and patently lethal wasps. We follow our dual protagonists, Julia (Jessica Cooks) and Paul (Matt O’Leary), as they arrive at said garden party, ready for work: the former has just inherited a catering business from her recently deceased father while the latter is her sole employee and potential love interest.

We meet the hosts of the party, pharmaceutical baron Mrs. Perch (Eve Slatner) and her weird, twitchy son, Sydney (Clifton Collins Jr., channeling Neil Hamburger), as well as their guests, including the town’s elderly mayor (Lance Henriksen, looking sleepy but having lots of fun). Once all that’s out of the way, we’re then introduced to the mutant wasps, which proceed to decimate said party in pretty rapid fashion: in a particularly gruesome development, even larger wasps burst out of the bodies of their victims, sometimes wearing the skins like Buffalo Bill-approved serapes.

From this point, it’s all about the survivors banding together, figuring out the source of the mutation (if you think creepy Sydney is involved, give yourself a cookie), figuring out how to fight the enormous insects (some of which are at least twice as large as the humans) and making one, last, epic stand for the good of all humanity. Will Julia and Paul be able to survive the night? Most importantly: will they ever admit that they kinda dig each other?

For the most part, Stung is a pretty by-the-book creature feature with a few exceptions. For one thing, the tone tends towards the serious, despite the gonzo subject matter, unlike something like Cooties (2015) or Love in the Time of Monsters (2015). While I’m a big fan of horror-comedies, I actually really liked the serious side of Stung, although the film could (occasionally) take itself so seriously that it swerved over the line into campy and silly. That being said, the film’s goofier, more overtly comedic moments end up sticking out like a sore thumb, splitting the film’s focus and leading to a very unsure tone. I wouldn’t actually call Stung a horror-comedy so much as I would describe it as a serious horror film with several misguided comedic moments: that’s a pretty big difference, obviously.

Another aspect of Stung that tends to set it apart from similar films is the genuinely exceptional effects work. In fact, short one truly terrible CGI shot of a flaming wasp in the film’s final reel, the effects work here is pretty stunning. The wasps look amazing, even in close-up (usually the kiss of death for creature effects), and the scenes where they burst from their victims are pretty damn gnarly: the aforementioned “skin suits” are a truly twisted, ingenious touch and add immeasurably to the film’s horror factor. There a real sense of physicality and weight to the creatures that you just don’t find in a lot of “giant bug” flicks: if nothing else, Stung is a minor masterclass in effectively using both practical and CGI effects in a low-budget film. Immense kudos to the effects team here.

The third aspect where Stung tends to set itself apart is, unfortunately, another negative one: the film has a raft of pacing issues, lurching from truly thrilling action sequences to long stretches where nothing much happens at all. This isn’t a case of being a slow-burn film, either: this is more like getting a car up to racing speed only to have the engine consistently sputter out and die. There are so many peaks and valleys in the film that it makes for a pretty jarring experience: it’s definitely like a roller-coaster, albeit with a much more negative connotation than that particular comparison usually elicits. Chalk this up to first-time director blues, however, since the thrilling moments are perfectly paced and executed: there just weren’t enough of them.

Ultimately, Stung is a thoroughly enjoyable creature feature with decent acting (Cook and O’Leary don’t have the best chemistry but they still work), an okay script (great scenario, iffy dialogue), amazing effects (both practical and CGI) and a set-up for a sequel that’s both awesome and intensely stupid (in the best way possible). If the film never comes close to scaling the heights of something like Mike Mendez’s Big Ass Spider (2013), well, that’s okay, too. There are enough decent touches here to indicate that Diez probably has some good films coming down the pike: for fans of giant bug films, this definitely isn’t a bad way to start.

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