The lineage of monster siege films is a long and storied one. Classics like ‘Tremors‘ and ‘The Mist‘ are best remembered, while lesser entries like ‘Splinter‘ and ‘Feast‘ are more b-movie fast food. What makes a great creature feature is a cast of interesting characters, a brood of fun and disgusting monsters, a satisfying body count, and a frenetic pace. ‘Stung’ hits a few of these marks, but it also misses a few in an embarrassing belly flop.
I really want to like ‘Stung’ because in a way, it’s very fun. It has some crazy over the top gore and lavish practical special effects. It has a few veterans of the genre, like Lance Henrickson and Clifton Collins Jr. It’s also terribly unoriginal and a little uneven. We are introduced to our main characters, Julie and Paul (Jessica Cook and Matt O’Leary) as they are traveling to their latest catering job. Apparently Julie has been struggling to hold together a catering business she inherited from her father with Paul’s help. Their relationship is ambiguously friendly. Director Benni Diez clumsily tells us rather quickly that Paul harbors a secret love for Julie. This is relayed in longing glances from each person towards the other in a ham fisted attempt to give the movie an emotional core that fails miserably.
The good news is that as a leading man, Matt O’Leary (Frailty, Time Lapse) is effortlessly charming and goofy. He stumbles across the screen while smoking weed and tripping over everything in sight. He is instantly likable, exuding a happy go lucky persona with a roguish grin. For some reason he is smitten with Jessica Cook’s uptight and invariably stressed Julie. I couldn’t really see why on earth he would be attracted to this woman, other than she sports a neat pair of hipster glasses at the beginning of the film which she quickly ditches along with her top when she spills coffee all over herself. Julie comes off as shallow, bossy and dour; not exactly winning traits of a likable main character.
Unfortunately, this is fairly important, because it’s telegraphed at the beginning that these are the two characters we will be following until the end of the film. This is one of the film’s major weaknesses. The proceedings are a bit dull. Unless you’re not a horror fan, you’ve probably seen movies like this a hundred times. Giant monsters trap people in a house, or a bar, or a town. There isn’t very much new to see here.
To make matters worse, the pace is very uneven. The action takes a while to pick up in the beginning, which is made worse by Julie’s constant nagging of Paul. The first bug attack in the film is spectacular and well worth the wait, but then things slooooooow down and stay that way for a while. Then they explode back to life, then they slow down again, then they pick back up and so on, and so forth. This unbalanced pace feels like it has more to do with the budget than any real story telling motivation because we don’t really learn a lot about our characters in these moments. Sure, Paul and Julie stare longingly at each other, but they don’t really talk a lot which is annoying, especially because we are supposed to believe that these two characters care about each other. Their relationship comes off more as lust than love.
What is exciting about ‘Stung’ is the monsters. When the mutant wasps attack, they mutate their victims into giant bugs. This is by far the highlight of the movie. The first attack scene where the nest of insects crash the party is a show-stopper. Things go bananas and the effects are incredibly fun. Of course the problem with this scene is that it takes place in almost the first act of the film. There really isn’t anything that happens later that tops it, although there are a few other nasty surprises that wait in the third act to keep things interesting.
Another highlight of the film, acting-wise, is Lance Henrikson. This shouldn’t really come as any surprise; the man is an absolute legend, but it is awe-inspiring to see him command the screen. The other actors aren’t exactly newcomers, but none of them have the screen presence Henrikson does. His character, Caruthers, is a kind of jaded politician. Henrikson plays it straight, but with a twinkle in his eye. Veteran Clifton Collins Jr. plays a weird momma’s boy, Sidney, who has a hunchback. I was actually creeped out by his character quite a bit. I can’t say I really enjoyed his performance because it’s so odd, but that’s the point so I guess he did a good job.
As I discussed earlier, there are two types of creature features, and ‘Stung‘ falls more into the fast food category of b-movie horror. It’s mildly satisfying, and there are moments that border jaw dropping. In the end, it squanders a lot of opportunity in the casting and the script. If these elements were stronger, the movie might not fade from your memory so soon after the credits roll.
Pretty to Look At
Stung is a lot of fun in some places, but it’s also a chore to get through in others