It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a tried and true, serious-in-tone creature feature, or at least one in which the creature in question is a real-world animal and not a fictitious monster. This sub-genre often finds its roots planted firmly in horror comedy or, intentionally or not, camp. So it’s refreshing that Infested (formerly titled Vermin), Sébastien Vaniček‘s feature directorial debut, takes a deathly serious approach to the material. There’s still plenty of fun to be had with these spiders, but there’s nothing funny about them.
30-year-old Kaleb (Théo Christine) is a small-time grifter with a passion for small critters. His hopes of opening a reptile zoo with his friend Jordy (Finnegan Oldfield) were squashed years ago when an argument drove the two friends apart. Kaleb makes up for his lost dream by lining the walls of his room with vivariums filled with creepy-crawlies. He purchases an exotic spider for sale in the back office of his friend’s shop, not knowing that it is extremely aggressive and venomous. Shortly after bringing it home, the spider escapes. Kaleb barricades his room in the hopes of containing it, intending to look for it later, but the photosensitive arachnid has a mind of its own and quickly wreaks havoc in the building.
Make no mistake: this isn’t just one spider loosed in an apartment complex. This spider, lovingly named Rihanna by Kaleb, mates rapidly (the timeline for the film is a day, maybe two), and its offspring grow to 10 times the size of their parents. This happens multiple times over the course of the film, ensuring that the stakes escalate rapidly and adds more variety to the set pieces. One particular sequence sees our characters forced to slowly make their way to the end of a dark hallway lined with spiders before the timer on the light switch runs out and its easily the highlight of the film.
A big fear walking into Infested was that it was going to be chock-full of CGI spiders (the days of Arachnophobia are long gone). Thankfully, Vaniček and his team have employed practical spiders when they are able, using CGI to enhance the scenes that involve hordes of them. In the early stages of the takeover, Vaniček and cinematographer Alexandre Jamin keep the spiders out of focus in the background behind unsuspecting characters, masking what could presumably be dodgy effects work. The really big spiders that populate the third act are fully computer-generated and look the most cartoonish, especially when seen under bright light, but a plot point that sees the local authorities shut off the power to the building ensures that the more lackluster effects are hidden behind dim lighting.
Vaniček and his co-writer Florent Bernard keep things moving at a brisk pace, but falter in the climax, where they try to cram in a few too many emotional resolutions between characters. Add in a dash of ACAB social commentary, and the film nearly buckles under the pressure of everything it’s trying to do. That this is all happening in a climactic parking garage face-off against the spiders leaves little room for any of it to resonate. It’s not a movie-killer, but it does detract from the experience. More successful are the early, if brief, glimpses into the lives of the tenants, whose early sense of community quickly turns sour once the arachnids begin to take over.
Infested may not fully stick the landing when it comes to the emotional beats, but the journey there is more than worth the watch. Full of moments that will get under your skin (I kicked my legs up more than a few times in my screening), Vaniček has crafted what is possibly the best “when spiders attack” movie in over 30 years, and that is no small feat. Infested, for lack of a better phrase, has plenty of bite.
Infested made its North American premiere at Fantastic Fest and had been acquired by Shudder for distribution. Release info TBA.