31 Days of Halloween, aliens, Brooke Nevin, Christopher Marquette, Deborah Geffner, E. Quincy Sloan, father-son relationships, flashbacks, giant bugs, giant insects, horror-comedies, human-spider hybrids, Infestation, Jim Cody Williams, Kyle Rankin, Linda Park, mutations, Ray Wise, reluctant hero, Wesley Thompson, writer-director, zombies
If there’s one thing that’s proven itself a time-tested, dependable trope in the sci-fi/horror world, it’s giant bugs attacking defenseless humans. It’s pretty much a no-brainer: most folks aren’t particularly fond of insects under the best of circumstances and the ones that are probably wouldn’t like them so much if they were the size of large horses. There’s something about bugs, in general, that’s almost alien: it’s no coincidence that so many filmmakers regularly use insectile elements in depictions of monsters and extraterrestrials.
Since the golden age of the giant bug movie in the ’50s, we’ve been treated to a pretty impressive menagerie of creepy crawly-focused films: audiences have thrilled as giant ants, spiders, wasps, cockroaches, scorpions, praying mantis, moths and ticks have all laid waste to the vestiges of human civilization. Science can’t help us…the military is defenseless…not much you can do about an “enemy” that outnumbers you a million to one, is there? To this long tradition of giant bug films, proudly add writer-director Kyle Rankin’s Infestation (2009), a snappy little horror-comedy that manages to overcome some rough patches and emerges as a fun choice for fans of the subgenre.
We begin “in the shit,” as it were, with an office building full of cocooned bodies and strange, beetle-like creatures roaming the halls, feeding on the captives. Our hero, Cooper (Christopher Marquette), has just fought his way out of his silken prison and has begun to free his co-workers, including Maureen (Deborah Geffner) and Jed (Jim Cody Williams). Via flashback, we learn that Cooper was actually sort of a lazy, do-nothing douchebag and that Maureen, his supervisor, had just fired him prior to the “event” that landed them all in their current predicament. That’s right, folks: we have ourselves another reluctant hero.
After freeing Maureen’s daughter, Sara (Brooke Nevin), Cooper leads the group, which now contains Leechee (Linda Park), Al (Wesley Thompson) and Al’s son, Hugo (E. Quincy Sloan), towards the presumed safety of his estranged survivalist father Ethan’s (Ray Wise) fortified bunker. All around them, the world seems to have gone to hell in a handbasket: giant wasp-things patrol the skies, swooping down to carry helpless victims away, while the beetle-creatures viciously attack anything they can hear, as they appear to be blind. To make matters worse, anyone who’s stung by one of the wasps becomes infected and gradually becomes a terrifying human-spider hybrid, adding a bit of a zombie element to proceedings.
Once at his father’s house, however, Cooper learns that Ethan isn’t particularly happy to see him. A power struggle ensues between father and son as both try to control the future of the group: Ethan wants to press on and find more survivors, while Cooper wants to plunge into the dark depths of the creatures’ nest and take on their queen, all in a desperate bid to safe humanity. Three guesses as to which path gets chosen and the first two, of course, don’t count.
For the most part, Infestation is lots of fun: the action is brisk and zany, the effects are actually really good (the human-spider hybrids are actually kind of amazing and made the 10-year-old boy in me super excited) and the cast is quite good. It’s always good to Ray Wise in anything and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here, turning in one of his trademark wise-ass/tough-guy roles but with enough paternal tenderness to sell his relationship with Cooper. Nevin holds her own as Sara, proving a gutsy, consistently interesting foil for Cooper. To be honest, only Marquette had to grow on me: for the first third of the film or so, I found Cooper to be nearly insufferable and I kept hoping that he’d get eaten and leave Sara as the defacto hero. No such luck, it turns out, although he did gradually reveal himself to be a more likeable character. A lot of this has to do with the writing, no doubt, but Marquette has a particular comic style that often reminded me of comedian Nick Swardson and could, in large doses, run rough-shod over the rest of the cast.
While the dialogue wasn’t always great and the film could, on occasion, be both clunky and inconsistent (the tone could swing wildly within the same scene, sometimes to the detriment of said scene), I really found myself drawn in by the energy and good-natured sense of fun. By the time everything wrapped-up with a gleefully gonzo homage to Aliens (1986), a set-up for an obvious sequel (Hugo looks off-screen, exclaims, and it cuts to credits) and a super-catchy Brit-poppy song over the end credits, I found myself quite fond of the film. While Infestation can, at times, have a bit of the feel of a Syfy film (albeit one of the better ones), it constantly strains against its limitations and is never less than entertaining. The biggest complement that I can pay the film is to say that I would gladly watch the (hopefully) inevitable sequel: if these are our new insect overlords, I’ll be happy to greet them with open arms.