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Movie Review: Oh “STING,” where is thy bite?

Wednesday, April 10, 2024 | Reviews


Starring Ryan Corr, Alyla Browne and Penelope Mitchell
Written and directed by Kiah Roache-Turner
Well Go USA

It may not be entirely fair to directly compare STING to INFESTED, given that it’s a coincidence of timing that has two movies about arachnid menaces in apartment buildings seeing release in the same month. So to sum up the difference simply before moving on: INFESTED, for all the horrific outlandishness of its premise, feels like real life, while STING always feels like a movie.

That movie has been nicely crafted by writer/director Kiah Roache-Turner and his team, even as it doesn’t give you that creepy-all-over feeling the best killer-bug movies do. This is an Australian-based production, and given that that country has a surplus of virulently venomous and frighteningly large native spiders, it’s a little surprising that Roache-Turner sets the action in Brooklyn, and makes the eight-legger an extraterrestrial. It arrives via a tiny asteroid that crashes through a window and lands in a dollhouse, quickly disgorging its crawling cargo. The sight of the spider running through the miniature rooms is a neat bit of foreshadowing of the oversized threat it will become, though it takes STING a while to get to that point.

Indeed, this sometimes feels less like a horror movie than a dysfunctional-family drama that happens to have a deadly spider in it. The main character figuratively caught up in its web is Charlotte (wink wink), a 12-year-old played by Alyla Browne still smarting from her father’s abandonment of her and her mom Heather (Penelope Mitchell). Her stepfather Ethan (Ryan Corr) is a comics artist, which gives them something to bond over–she has even created his latest project–but there’s still an uneasy distance between them, especially now that Ethan and Heather have a new baby of their own. So when Charlotte, who’s already into spiders, discovers the newly arrived specimen, she adopts it and dubs it “Sting,” after Bilbo’s blade in THE HOBBIT. (There may be an in-joke in there somewhere, given that Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop did this movie’s live-action creature effects.)

Charlotte keeps Sting a secret from her parents, and at the same time is unaware that it can unscrew the top of the jar where she keeps it to go foraging for food/victims, and apparently screw it back on later. In fact, the people in STING are unaware of the danger in their midst for quite some time, which works against the tension. For more than half the film’s length, the emphasis is just as much on the fraught interactions between Charlotte and her family, which also includes Gunter (Robyn Nevin), her pasty-faced gargoyle of a great-aunt, and her grandma Helga (Noni Hazlehurst), whose dementia-induced forgetfulness is one of the main sources of the uneven humor laced throughout STING. Another is Frank (THE BLACKENING’s Jermaine Fowler), an exterminator who makes his way to the building through the blizzard outside and quickly finds himself in over his head. Oh yes, NYC is suffering the worst ice storm in its history, making escape from the quickly growing Sting near-impossible.

While there is a certain amount of urban NYC reality to this scenario–both Ethan and Heather work from home–it carries more of a sense of family than of community in this building, which is populated by only enough characters to directly serve the plot. Among them are Erik (Danny Kim), the weird biology student who seems like he might be able to solve, or at least explain, the situation, but only ends up making it worse. Although the film takes a couple of dark, unexpected turns in the last act, it’s evident early on (including from the giveaway opening flash-forward) who will survive and who will be spider fodder.

The CGI of the smaller Sting and Weta’s work when it becomes oversized, along with Roache-Turner’s skill at mounting the individual setpieces, result in a certain number of shivery moments along the way. The leads are convincing, with Browne and Corr conveying Charlotte and Ethan’s individual turmoil and their tense stepfather-and-daughter relationship, which is further tested by Sting’s rampage. What’s lacking is a sense of escalating claustrophobic suspense, that we’re trapped in there with the characters desperately trying to deal with the creature stalking them (it doesn’t help that the eventual method of its destruction is pretty clearly established not long into the movie). And the people around Charlotte and Ethan aren’t given sufficient dimension for us to be truly concerned about their welfare. STING does its best to get under your skin, but its effects are only intermittent.

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).