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Stung

D: Benni Diez / 87m

Cast: Matt O’Leary, Jessica Cook, Clifton Collins Jr, Lance Henriksen, Eve Slatner, Cecilia Pillado

Caterers Julia (Cook) and Paul (O’Leary) have been booked for a birthday celebration for Mrs Perch (Slatner) at her house in the country. It’s make or break for the business, and Julia, who’s taken over since her father’s recent death, is particularly on edge and wanting to make a good impression. When they arrive and get set up, everything seems to be going in their favour, although Paul finds himself bothered by a bigger than average wasp. When the guests have arrived and the party is in full swing, the fun turns to horror as a swarm of these swaps erupts from a hole in the ground and begins attacking the guests. To make matters worse, these wasps don’t just sting their victims – they use them as cocoons from which they emerge even bigger and more powerful.

Fighting their way through the panic, Paul and Julia, along with Mrs Perch, her hunchbacked son Sydney (Collins Jr), their maid Flora (Pillado), and the local mayor (Henriksen), make into the house where they hide in the kitchen. But Mrs Perch has already been stung, and soon transforms into a giant wasp. The rest escape but in doing so, Flora is killed, leaving the remaining foursome to barricade themselves in the cellar. Deciding that their only real hope of escape is for someone to get to their catering van and bring it nearer to the house, Paul leaves the basement and retrieves the keys he dropped earlier. While he does, it soon becomes clear that Sydney has been stung as well. As he begins to change, a wasp’s head emerges from his hunch. Paul runs back when he hears Julia and the mayor cry out in fear. He knocks out Sydney and the three of them try and make their escape through the house. But when the mayor is attacked by one of the wasps, Julia and Paul have no option but to find their own way out.

Eventually they get outside and head for their van but are attacked by the biggest wasp yet. It impales Paul through his left shoulder and though Julia manages to sever the wasp’s limb it knocks her unconscious. When she comes to, the first thing she becomes aware of is Paul’s screams, which are coming from the house…

Stung - scene

A German-made movie with all the hallmarks of a low-budget horror sensibility where the concept is key, Stung is another entry in the nature gone wild sub-genre that harks back to the days of Them! (1954) and Tarantula (1955). Skipping any reason for the wasps’ behaviour (or origin), the movie sets out its stall quite early on with its wasp attack on a bee: clearly, something bad is going to happen if this is anything to go by. With the characters of Paul (carefree, rule-bending), Julia (determined, anxious), and Sydney (creepy, unreliable) firmly established, the party gets under way and Adam Aresty’s script gets on with the gleeful task of slaughtering a raft of minor characters before settling down to a game of wasp and mouse in the house, with Henriksen’s macho cliché-spouting mayor coming into his own (and stealing the movie).

From here the movie loses some of its momentum, reducing the number of wasps that appear, and concentrating on Paul and Julia’s burgeoning romance, an example of character building that thankfully doesn’t feel forced, thanks to the script and the playing of O’Leary and Cook. But once Paul is injured, the movie picks up the pace and heads for a bravura finale that features a chase sequence that definitely hasn’t been seen before. And with a coda that sets up a potential sequel, as well as providing the movie’s best sight gag, Stung ends on an unexpected, satisfying high.

But while the movie is entertaining enough, and its splatter effects convincingly gloopy, there’s a budgetary struggle that it never quite overcomes. With so many wasps erupting from the ground, and so many guests to feed on, their dwindling numbers from then on (replaced by an Aliens-style mother for the most part), actually serves to reduce the tension. While outside, Paul is only attacked by one wasp when there should be dozens more at least. Inside the house it appears there’s only one or two of the creatures prowling around, and one of those is quite easily despatched. And the final twenty minutes, with Paul trapped in the house with “Mother”, jettisons the whole idea of the wasps attacking people to grow larger, and settles instead for a queen wasp pumping out larvae that then have to be ingested. It’s an unsettling development, in the sense that the movie now feels like an insect version of James Cameron’s classic.

That this doesn’t spoil the movie entirely is down to Aresty’s tart script and Diez’s straightforward direction. This isn’t a movie with very many frills, and it’s all the better for it, telling its story with a degree of modesty and style that blunts any concerns the viewer may have about its content or how absurd it may be (of course it’s absurd – it’s a giant killer wasp movie!). There’s humour there as well, carefully included but not allowed to take away from the seriousness of the situation, and as mentioned before, the characters are credibly written considering what they’re going through (and no one behaves like a self-serving coward). Thanks to all the care and attention given to the material throughout, Stung can be taken for exactly what it is: a low-budget horror movie that’s entertaining on its own terms, and well worth seeking out.

Rating: 7/10 – some narrative concerns midway through shouldn’t detract from the fact that Stung hits just the right note in mixing strong drama, horror and an acceptable level of humour; maybe not the midnight classic it was aiming for but still a better than average killer insect movie – and how many similar movies can you say that about?

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