Genre filmmakers have loved making giant killer bug movies since the ’50s but it’s only in recent times that they’ve had the special effects capability to make the concept look impressive. Stung is a 21st century example of the form that benefits from such technological advances, delivering the kind of FX that would have been unimaginable before the 2000’s. It also makes a good faith attempt to reinvent the form in other areas but those elements of this subgenre aren’t as easily reworked.
The main protagonists of Stung are Julia (Jessica Cook) and Paul (Matt O’Leary). She’s trying to keep her recently deceased father’s party-planning company afloat and he’s the slacker employee who has a not-so-secret crush on her. They go to a secluded country estate to take care of a party. Unfortunately, said destination is also home to a horde of genetically-enhanced wasps that can not only kill people but harvest their bodies to grow into nasty, giant-size versions of themselves. Pretty soon, Julia and Paul are barricaded in the house with the local Mayor (Lance Henriksen) and geeky rich kid Sydney (Clifton Collins Jr.) as they struggle to battle the ever-mutating menace.
The best element of Stung is the professionalism behind the camera: the film is slickly shot, has a snappy pace and delivers an array of both CGI and well-crafted practical makeup effects that will charm monster fans with their scope and gusto. Director Benni Diez comes from a visual effects background and he’s able to blend the effects and the live action material in a mostly seamless way.
That said, Stung is ultimately a better-realized, slightly smarter version of a SyFy Original t.v. movie despite its aspirations to reinventing the form. Adam Aresty’s script tries to get the viewer invested in the Julia/Paul relationship but the characters are too generic and their interaction is blatantly contrived for an “opposites attract” love story that never takes flight because it so predictable. Both Cook and O’Leary commit to their roles but they can’t help the sketchily-defined romance rise above its formulaic beats. It doesn’t help that O’Leary has a tendency to overplay both the drama and slapstick in a way that is too self-conscious.
However, the film is never less than watchable. Diez and company apply themselves to their work with gusto and maintain a steady stream of FX-intensive setpieces. It has two endings too many but it’s hard to get mad at a film so eager to deliver the goods. There’s also some fun in the character actor department from Henriksen, who is as smooth and professional as ever, and Collins Jr., who has fun playing against type as a well-to-do geek.
In short, Stung isn’t likely to become the next cult movie sensation but it’s slick and eventful enough to rate as a decent time-killer.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory recently issued this title on blu-ray. The transfer for this digitally shot film is suitably colorful and detailed, handling daylight exteriors and dark interiors with equal skill. 5.1 and 2.0 lossless stereo tracks are offered: the 5.1 track was used for this review and its an eventful mix with plenty of surround activity during the frequent bug action.
Scream Factory has also included a package of extras. A commentary features Diez, Aresty and producer Benjamin Munz. It has plenty of details on the special effects, how the script was reworked for the shoot and some nice praise for Henriksen’s hard-working style. A making-of piece runs 21 minutes and mixes EPK-style material with lots of on-set footage and glimpses into how the FX were staged.
A set of production blogs also runs in the 20 minute range: these were done for the film’s Facebook site and feature some good-natured goofing around on the set as well as a look at post-production process. A trailer wraps up the extras: it’s a fast-paced spot that exploits the film’s array of special effects with skill.