Snakes ‘n spiders: the two cornerstone big daddies of zoophobic horror. Sure, sharks are classic and rats have had their cinematic moments, but where would the genre be without eight-legged freaks and their slithering, limbless reptile brethren? People tend to fall into two categories – arachnophobic and ophidiophobic – but even if snakes give you the willies, director Sébastien Vaniček’s debut feature will leave you yearning for their cold-blooded embrace after you meet his army of creepy-crawly web-spinners.
Kaleb (Théo Christine) makes ends meet selling sneakers to the denizens of his low-income apartment block. A lover of reptiles, amphibians, and insects, Kaleb can’t resist when he comes across a mysterious spider for sale in a friend’s shop. After taking his new little friend home and placing her in a shoe box, the spider almost immediately escapes and quickly begins laying eggs in the walls and air vents of the building. As people start dying from poisonous bites, the Paris police lockdown the building, leaving Kaleb and his friends in a fight for their lives against scores of venomous arachnids.
Infested (Vermines) invites comparisons to Joe Cornish’s delinquents vs. aliens sci-fi comedy Attack the Block (2011) though Vaniček aims for (and achieves) a tonal intensity far different from the Cornetto trilogy-adjacent film. There’s a lot of overlap in terms of setup and theme – a rundown apartment block under siege, underprivileged young people grappling with an authoritarian police force – but Infested is far soberer and nerve-shreddy despite some humorous character interactions.
Vaniček and cinematographer Alexandre Jamin put viewers directly into the action with drab, green-hued color grading and a handheld camera that adds grit and immediacy, but also hides any rough edges when their araneidan buddies strike. The spider effects are almost too good, with what appears to be a healthy balance between practical, actual, and computer-generated elements bringing thousands upon thousands of the buggers to life. It’s a major leap from the spider-centric entertainments of yesteryear, and it’s hard to resist the full-body chills that come in waves whenever Vaniček unleashes a new, itch and anxiety-inducing set-piece.
The script by Vaniček and co-writer Florent Bernard takes Infested from an impressive, but run-of-the-mill animal attack thriller to something greater, with thoughtful character building and an excellent understanding of setup/payoff. Infested is the sort of movie that’s impressive as a technical exercise in scare-making, but it’s the groundwork laid by a good script enacted by good performers that make it stick with you like a skittering stowaway unobtrusively depositing a clutch of eggs in your pocket.
Movie Score: 4/5