Stung Review: The Creature Feature You Want

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Stung isn’t winking, and it isn’t seeking “so bad it’s good” cult aggrandizement. The film is beautifully shot, gory and goopy as hell, and imaginative and applause-worthy in its largely practical FX work. If the story beats are a little same-old, director Benni Diez, writer Adam Aresty and their very talented SFX and VFX teams go for broke to meet their earnest, crowd pleasing monster movie aspirations. They do, and it sure is refreshing to a creature feature-hungry audience that’s bogged down by cheap films full of false camp. Upon Stung’s end, you’re left wondering why it and movies like last year’s Blood Glacier aren’t what a channel like Syfy is invested in making? 

Set during a Southern Gothic Garden Party on the grounds of a dilapidated manor, Stung provides lush atmosphere for its killer wasp chaos. The film concerns a pair of caterers who bear witness to an ensemble of eccentric upper crust characters and the monsters they become. Julia (Jessica Cook) has taken over her deceased father’s catering business, the film’s garden party being her first big showcase. Along for the ride is but one employee, the slacker-esque and carefree Paul (Matt O’Leary). Thanks to a toxin in the fertilizer, the grounds’ killer wasps are mutated to enormity, soon wreaking havoc on guests like Lance Henriksen’s gruff mayor Curuthers and Clifton Collins Jr’s delightfully weird outcast, Sydney.

Diez sets the stage of “ew” with small, slimy encounters. Each wasp that’s swatted down explodes into a mess of muculent, stretchy matter that clings to hands. When the wasps eventually all-out attack, the party and film itself becomes a madhouse. The wasps sting their victims and new, even larger wasps emerge from the bodies, sometimes with heads still attached to their long, mutant insect legs. It’s a delightfully gruesome, inventive image— a fun inverse of the head atop legs in John Carpenter’s classic The Thing.

Paul’s trajectory—from letdown to hero—throughout this all is fairly standard, but O’Leary’s performance and a brief monologue about his time as a lifeguard give a more empathetic vibe to the usual “loser mans up” tale. Mercifully, it doesn’t take very long for Paul to subvert expectations and take control, but that only makes Julia’s relegation to the corner for much of the film all the more disappointing. Thankfully, the talented Cook’s badass moments are just that.

The two of course band together with a few survivors in the home, including Henriksen and Collins, who the film won’t let off with simple cameos. The former plays his age terrifically as a tough, sweet politician, and it’s a true joy to hear the veteran actor and genre favorite call someone a “little weenie” in moments of crisis. Collins meanwhile goes wild as Sydney, the hunchbacked, socially awkward child of party host Mrs. Perch. As do the FX team on Sydney, whose hunch acts as a barrier between the man and the wasp, giving the character a little killer insect friend on his shoulder later on.

It’s neat, gross little surprises like that which keep Stung from hitting the same beat again and again. Diez and cinematographer Stephan Burchardt not only keep the film visually exciting and varied—colorful and shadow heavy—but the team on hand  knows that just a giant wasp won’t carry a film. Stung traverses the manor, from the garden to the home to wine cellar to a massive, makeshift nest in the basement and drops bloody, slimy gags in all of them. This is solid, infectious creature fun, well made for the monster maniacs that deserve it.