Infested (2023)

by - April 26th, 2024 - Movie Reviews


Unrelenting Infested is a Creepy-Crawly, Eight-Legged Nightmare

The original French title for the urban thriller Infested is Vermines, i.e., “vermin.” That’s far more appropriate. The relentless arachnid epic from director Sébastien Vaníček isn’t only about creepy-crawly creatures devouring the inhabitants of an inner-city apartment complex but also an exacting evisceration of how society brazenly mistreats and undervalues its most economically disadvantaged members. Authorities treat them as, well, vermin.

Infested (2023) | PHOTO: Shudder

What begins as a survival epic slowly becomes something even more disturbing. The true evil lurking in the parking garage is not so much the mutating eight-legged carnivores sucking the blood from their human prey but instead an uncaring bureaucratic police force unwilling to save any of the building’s surviving residents. This brazen cruelty is almost more shocking than the carnage caused by those pesky spiders. Emphasis on “almost.”

All of that happens during the film’s climactic third. The first hour-plus is centered on those tiny home invaders wreaking all the havoc, and Vaníček has no interest in playing nice. While not exactly French extreme horror in the vein of something like Martyrs, it still gets plenty mean once the webs begin to get spun throughout the rundown complex. People die in the most gruesome fashions imaginable. The protagonists ashamedly turn a blind eye to anyone who gets bitten. No one is safe.

It’s like something out of a George Romero or Lucio Fulci zombie flick. It’s gut-wrenching the first time one of our supposed heroes breaks down in tears as they frantically yell at those they care about to stay away and goes back into their residence to die alone. The pain everyone felt at that moment was palpable. I honestly wanted to break down and cry.

The plot is an insane combination of Arachnophobia, Attack the Block, [REC], Kingdom of the Spiders, and 2019’s Les Misérables. With the recent death of their mother, siblings Kaleb (Théo Christine) and Lila (Sofia Lesaffre) inherit their family’s dilapidated apartment building. She wants to sell. He wants to earn enough money to make the necessary upgrades that could continue to make living there worthwhile for their mostly elderly tenants.

So what’s with all the bugs? Kaleb moonlights as an exotic animal and insect collector, and in perfect creature-feature fashion, he becomes enamored with a rare species of spider he randomly comes across in a seedy secondhand pawnshop. Before anyone knows what’s going on, the critter has escaped, mutated, and spawned hundreds — maybe even thousands — of equally deadly babies. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happens next.

Like in so many modern, digitally shot pictures, as swiftly and as elegantly as cinematographer Alexandre Jamin whips the camera to and fro, at times things are so underlit that the screen frustratingly becomes a big black smear. While some of this is understandably by design, there are moments where images of spiders climbing the walls in the background or webs dangling down out of an open archway lose their effectiveness, frankly because I couldn’t see what was going on. It lessens the shock value, especially during the frantic midsection in which Kaleb, Lila, and their friends are beginning to figure out what’s going on and learn how much trouble they’re in.

Infested (2023) | PHOTO: Shudder

This gets better, though, as things move forward, primarily after it becomes apparent that light can be utilized as a weapon. There’s a great bit in a hallway leading to the car park that the spiders have transformed into their own personal cave, and the overhead fluorescents that can keep everyone safe are on a timer that can only be controlled at the end furthest from the group’s destination. This whole sequence made my skin crawl.

But the best thing I can say about Infested is that I squirmed in my seat as if I were sitting on a chair made out of upturned nails for the majority of the running time. I sweated profusely. I kept having to swat nonexistent bugs away from my skin seemingly every other second. Vaníček’s unrelenting yarn of arachnid mayhem got to me, and I’m happy to say I was suitably terrified. His film is great, and I almost hate myself for watching it, as it’s undoubtedly going to give me nightmares.

In other words, if this sort of stuff is your thing (and you know who you are), see it right away. Infested rules.

– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)

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