Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Benni Diez
Writer: Adam Aresty
Producer: Christian Becker, Benjamin Munz
Stars: Matt O’Leary, Jessica Cook, Clifton Collins Jr., Lance Henriksen
A caterer and a bartender find themselves immersed in an insect invasion when mutant wasps overrun an outdoor manor party.
Instead of cubed ice and blanketed pigs, snarky bartender Paul and cute caterer Julia are up to their ears in killer wasps and panicking partygoers. Elderly host Mrs. Perch’s garden has been using an especially strange fertilizer and when her mischievous mutt Percy digs up an infected insect nest, mutant mayhem is unleashed. Banding together with other scrappy survivors, Paul and Julia are now forced to fight buzzing beasts with stingers capable of turning people into winged wasp monsters.
The story for “Stung” is fully summarized in three sentences because there isn’t too much to this conservatively comedic creature feature. Obviously, the logic behind how a finger-length bug mutates into a seven-foot monster by incubating inside a human host for 60 seconds makes not one lick of science sense. It doesn’t have to. Thin premises are fine for films interested exclusively in diving boards of madcap mania.
Except that isn’t the style “Stung” shoots for. “Stung” sits somewhere above the slightly more slapdash SyFy-Asylum monster movies, yet doesn’t fully aim to hit heights of cult classic status carried by its Atomic Age predecessors, either. This strands “Stung” in a noncommittal limbo between semi-serious and humorous horror that could do with an adrenaline shot of amplified uniqueness.
Chemistry between main duo Paul and Julia isn’t necessarily nonexistent, merely mediocre, an adjective fit to describe many of the landings “Stung” hits during its balance beam routine. Most of the characters are similarly describable, having preexisting relationships that aren’t clarified for the viewer or personalities too placid to be endearing. Scripting struggles with how to best establish its cast while keeping tension tight, usually leaving one plate unattended because there isn’t enough quirkiness in the characterizations or suspense in the scares for the film’s hand to spin both.
Pacing frequently slows to a standstill when characters have spontaneous heart-to-hearts about family lives or career aspirations. The script is stabbing at development meant to put meat on everyone’s bones, but these lulls serve little point other than dulling the plot’s pulse when these same people are slated to die as soon as they are done with the scene.
Among “at least…” compliments “Stung” earns no matter what is that it is a Lance Henriksen movie actually featuring Lance Henriksen. While not included in the genre giant’s most memorable supporting roles, Henriksen at least sticks around for the better part of an hour, effectively doubling collective screen time spent cameoing in countless low-budget indies during the previous 10 years.
Also, perhaps unsurprisingly given director Benni Diez’s visual effects background, the mix of unobtrusive CGI and expert practical FX makes for highly effective creature carnage. The killer wasps look terrific and sumptuous shots of their pincers and stingers tearing bodies in two are top notch in terms of execution and maximum gruesomeness.
If “Stung” let that enthusiasm for making its monsters larger than life bleed elsewhere onscreen, it might be more than moderately amusing fright fare. “Stung” would have done itself a favor by leaning further in one direction over the other instead of tiptoeing on a tightrope between not tongue-in-cheek enough to be campy fun and not dramatic enough to be taken seriously. Needing more animation in its action and more charisma in its cast, “Stung” is only slick enough to be a standard killer bug movie with too slight of a humorous edge.
Review Score: 55