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Stung | Review

Spirit of the Wasp’s Nest: Diez’s Debut a Schlocky Creature Feature

stung-posterAfrican killer bees were once a common threat in disaster themed American cinema of the 1970s, reaching a penultimate plateau of ridiculousness with Irwin Allen’s famous 1978 celebrity packed stink bomb, The Swarm. Their aggressive cousins, mutant wasps, get a chance at bat in Stung, the directorial debut of Benni Diez. Previously a visual effects supervisor, whose most notable credit was Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2011), Diez utilizes his particular skillset to notable effect in his first feature. Unfortunately, some striking special effects are the only details saving the picture from being a complete waste of its audience’s time.

Julia (Jessica Cook) has recently had to take over control of her father’s catering business following his untimely death. She’s unsure if she’s up to snuff, relaying her fears to lone employee Paul (Matt O’Leary) on their way to their gig in the isolated countryside to cater a fancy garden party for an elderly patron, Mrs. Perch (Eve Slatner). Little do they know that Mrs. Perch’s illegal imported fertilizer has been seeping into the ground for quite some time now, and has had detrimental effects on a species of wasps in the area—the kind prone to laying their eggs into other insects. The fertilizer has changed them into aggressive creatures that become the size of whatever host it is they’ve hatched out of, and not long into Mrs. Perch’s little garden party, the little rascals come out to play.

When it’s not languishing in passable silliness during an uneventful introduction to its main characters, the film collapses underneath the burden of formula. Sure, the giant oogy wasps are fun and routinely disgusting, but they simply chase its slowly diminishing troupe of characters back and forth in a dilapidated mansion resembling some kind of dank interior we’d expect to see in the Saw franchise. Its likeable leads do what they can, including newcomer Jessica Cook (here making her feature debut) and the continually underrated Matt O’Leary (Natural Selection, 2011).

Character actor Clifton Collins Jr. promises to be another memorable weirdo, but he ends up being an unremarkable plot device. Same goes for genre stalwart Lance Henrikson, also amusing in the film’s more idiosyncratic set-up but as forgettable as everyone else once we’re saddled in the cat-and-mouse second half. Henrikson enhances the film’s comparisons to Aliens (1986), and first time screenwriter Adam Aresty’s dialogue seems filled with missed opportunities for potential zingers seemingly written for homage.

Eventually, Stung goes from feeling scatterbrained to just plain boring, perhaps because everyone seems to have forgotten the film is about giant killer wasps, for Christ’s sake. But without thrills or laughs, we simply sit back and find a handful of moments where Diez managed to make his big bugs look pretty cool considering his budget.

Killer wasps, hornets, and bees are the type of fodder we’d expect to see in made-for-cable fare, where these critters often do pop up in cheapie productions. So it’s frustrating to see a missed opportunity like this, calling for strong characters to prevail over the eventually desensitizing crutch of single-minded insects on an endless rampage.

★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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