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BUFF ’24 Movie Review: The spider horrors of “INFESTED” have eight legs up

Thursday, April 4, 2024 | Reviews


Starring Théo Christine, Sofia Lesaffre and Jérome Niel
Directed by Sébastien Vaniček
Written by Sébastien Vaniček and Florent Bernard

It’s not every nature-run-amok thriller that can land a premiere berth at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, but INFESTED stands way above the usual run of is-it-animal-vegetable-or-digital low-budget schlock. The first feature by director/co-writer Sébastien Vaniček, which played last month’s Boston Underground Film Festival ahead of a Shudder debut April 26, is a good ’n’ creepy killer-spider opus that’ll get you jumping and squirming even if you’re not an arachnophobe.

A prologue that feels like a homage to the opening of Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE swiftly establishes the little buggers’ origins, though not precisely how one of them winds up in the back room of a shop in urban France. It’s purchased by a young man named Kaleb (Théo Christine), who takes it home to a housing project that has a futuristic look on the outside (it’s dominated by two circle-shaped buildings) but is rundown on the inside. Living with his sister Manon (Lisa Nyarko) in an apartment once owned by their mom, Kaleb deals in black-market sneakers to support himself, Manon and a collection of exotic bugs and frogs. He intends to add the spider, which he names Rihanna, to that mini-menagerie, though amusingly, even the other arthropods in their cages seem scared of it. Naturally, Rihanna has no interest in captivity and escapes, and Vaniček builds nervous jitters about where the spider will next emerge and who it will creep up on. The payoff is doubly effective since it is joined by a number of offspring, and we’re then shown in graphic detail what their bites can wreak on a human victim.

Soon, the deadly poisonous arachnids are numerous enough to infest the entire building and threaten all of its residents and a few visitors, most specifically Manon’s friend Lila (Sofia Lesaffre) and Lila’s boyfriend Jordy (Finnegan Oldfield), who is also Kaleb’s estranged former best bud. Vaniček and co-scripter Florent Bernard establish just the right amount of existing tension among the group before they’re all united in their attempts to escape the death trap their home has become. There’s just a bit of scientific discussion/exposition where their eight-legged co-stars are concerned, but the movie largely takes it for granted that the spiders can multiply so quickly and exponentially (and, in the beginning, apparently asexually), and increase in size at an equal pace.

Until the film’s later going, they don’t become excessively large, which keeps their threat relatable and therefore scarier. Vaniček knows that spiders that crawl all over you will get deeper under your skin than huge specimens that can step on you, and alternates edgy suspense, as the survivors make their way through bewebbed hallways and other tight spaces trying not to set off the threat, with panicked terror as the spiders pursue them at frightening speed. The focus on inner-city characters literally fighting their way out of their squalid environment–and when the cops show up, they only make a bad situation worse–invites easy sociopolitical readings, especially since the film’s original title was VERMINES (VERMIN). Vaniček never leans into those themes, though, focusing throughout on the extreme peril and upping the stakes in plausible, hair-raising ways.

The tiny and not-quite-so-tiny terrors are a mix of the real thing and digital effects, and it’s to the credit of Vaniček and his team that they’re equally convincing. The actors all inhabit their roles with naturalism and energy, and their friendly/hostile interactions create a strong sense of the dynamics of their inner-city community. Even though some of them are bending or breaking the law to get by, they earn our sympathies as they’re thrust into a life-or-horrible-death situation. This particularly pays off in what may be the most agonizing scene, which doesn’t involve the onscreen spiders at all but rather the group hearing the dying screams of a friend they’re unable to save. For the most part, though, INFESTED is all about freaking you out with the scuttling, seemingly inescapable super-cluster (and makes clear that the EVIL DEAD spinoff Vaniček has signed to direct is in very good hands). It’ll have you seeing little movements out of the corner of your eye for hours afterward.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and in addition to his work for RUE MORGUE, he has been a longtime writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. He has also written for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM, MOVIEMAKER and others. He is the author of the AD NAUSEAM books (1984 Publishing) and THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press), and he has contributed documentaries, featurettes and liner notes to numerous Blu-rays, including the award-winning feature-length doc TWISTED TALE: THE UNMAKING OF "SPOOKIES" (Vinegar Syndrome).