AMAD-Horror Edition: Infestation

15 Oct

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Oct 10th, 2009–

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 Infestation–2009 (R) 93 min. Written & Directed by: Kyle Rankin Starring: Diane Gaeta, Chris Marquette, Ray Wise, Brooke Nevin.   

 Kyle Rankin’s Infestation has a peculiar but refreshing distinction despite being little more than a low-budget creature feature distraction. It’s the best Sy-Fy Saturday night monster pic the network has ever debuted. That is of course faint praise indeed, but Infestation looms large over its fellow candidates in this category. It’s everything those movies aspire to and never quite arrive at: a silly, schlocky good time with characters we like and creatures that actually creep us out.

Cubicle jockey Cooper(Chris Marquette) isn’t particularly challenged by his job as a telemarketing monkey, but he keeps going everyday because he enjoys goofing around and it keeps his overbearing dad (Ray Wise) off his back. One morning changes all this when in the midst of being fired by his boss, Cooper and every other person in the immediate vicinity suddenly pass out. When he comes to several days later, the startled young man finds himself cocooned to the side of a desk with puncture wounds in the side of his face. Everyone else in the office–in truth, the entire city–has also been wrapped up in silky white webbing and are unconscious.

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So, Cooper starts waking people up and it isn’t long before he meets the first sign of explanation; he’s attacked by an enormous insect that looks like H.R. Giger’s nature sketches of a rhinoceros beetle. After a small band of survivors is formed, Cooper reluctantly takes them through the city, heading for his dad’s house–the man is an ex-military survivalist–and together, they begin to see what has become of the world they knew. The air is constantly alive with hideous buzzing, and all manner of entomological nightmares roam the streets, including zombified hybrids that posess the upper portions of the human body but the hindquarters of arachnids.

 To be fair, that synopsis isn’t terribly different than many other sordid monster flicks. What sets Infestation apart and elevates it above such failures as Eight Legged Freaks and the Resident Evil pictures is that it’s actually alot more clever and competent than it seems. Rankin wastes no time in getting the small band together and showing us what happened to Earth in the wake of the mysterious black-out. After 15 minutes of film, Cooper and his band have been assembled and as one could guess they have all the prerequisite characters–the level headed family man with his son, the chest-beating redneck, the disoriented chick, and the smart, resourceful stand-offish girl. There may be a few more there, but honestly there were eaten too quickly for me to notice.

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The monsters are shown early and often and instead of hiding their appearances in shadows, it is their nature that is a mystery. Their civilization(where did it come from?) has been structured off of two things: 50s giant bug movies and video game villian heirarchy. Every bit of evolution from the flying mosquitoes to the new human-spider workers answer to a big, disgusting end boss who has watched Starship Troopers too many times.

What makes the movie so much fun is that like similarly silly but engaging flicks like Deep Rising and Tremors, Infestation understands what it is and delivers both effective sequences related to its genre and a nice dose of off-kilter humor at the same time. Marquette, whose performance seems like a lampoon of Shia LeBeouf’s faux-everyman, does a good job with his self-centered millenial slacker who needs an apocalypse to kick-start his adulthood. This isn’t Shaun of the Dead levels of intelligent or insightful, but it adds a nice wrinkle to the proceedings. Cooper isn’t as afraid of the bugs as he is of saying the wrong thing to his new crush Sara or facing off with his prickly, dominating father. Ray Wise as the father is the re-energizing force the film needs in it’s second half.

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 Once the survivors reach Wise’s home, his hard-line warrior who loves his little Pekinese possibly more than his son steals the show. Wise and the monsters come to blows in often hilarious ways and it’s not hard to see why this guy makes a career out of saving genre material with side characters like this. He’s really good at it. Better yet, is that he has a good chemistry with Marqutte that makes the preequisite family drama go down smoothly. After Cooper accuses him with “We never honored feelings in this household” Wise’s face grows solemn and regretful and he answers” Let me tell you a story, son….You’re an idiot!”

Infestation isn’t going to redefine the way you think about survivalist horror and it isn’t even the best one that has come out this year, but it understands the genre well and all who have been involved in it care about making it as good as it possibly can be. It gave me the similar feelings I had growing up watching Critters and Night of the Creeps and the like. For a new generation of kids flipping through stations, discovering Infestation could similarly hook them on monster movies, and that could definitely be considered a success. It melds the catastrophic implications of Them! with the witty kitstch of Gremlins and instantly raises the bar for all future Sy-Fy pictures. Let’s hope they can rise to the occassion.  

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