Wednesday, 26 August 2015


Who doesn't love a good old-fashioned 'nature run amok' creature feature? Aside from campy, low-budget fun flicks from SyFy along the lines of Sharknami or Megagatorcrocasaurus (or something) this is a genre that has actually fallen by the wayside in recent years.
However, that is all set to change, as attendees to the opening night of the Film4 FrightFest in London this weekend will discover. For Stung, the American-German collaboration from Rat Pack Filmproducktion, boasts giant wasps and Lance Fucking Henriksen.
Game on, guys. 

STUNG (2015)

Dir: Benni Diez

Starring: Jessica Cook, Matt O'Leary, Clifton Collins Jr, Lance Henriksen, Daniele Rizzo, Eve Slatner, Florentine Lahme, Cecilia Pillado

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but read on at your own risk.

Ambitious party-planner Julia (Cook) heads to a sprawling country manor in which wealthy elderly client Mrs Perch (Slatner) is holding her latest exclusive annual gathering for her equally well-off friends. Upon arrival Julia has some worries, not least due to the questionable work ethic of her slacker barman Paul (O'Leary) and the skittish behaviour of Mrs Perch's odd, nerdy, heavy-drinking son Stanley (Collins).

However, as the guests arrive, including louche Mayor Carruthers (Henriksen), Paul proves more reliable than she suspected — probably because he is desperate to impress her and move their relationship from professional to something more romantic.
As the awkward night goes on, things seem to be going well... until a nearby wasps' nest is disturbed. This would be an unpleasant event by itself, however, unbeknownst to the attendees this vicious breed of wasp is one that injects its young into a living host to grow. Now, after becoming exposed to a highly-illegal form of fertiliser, these wasps have mutated, and their young is able to grow exponentially inside its host until said body can hold it no longer.
As the first stings cause wide-spread panic, things take a drastic turn for the worse when 6ft wasps start to burst out of the flesh of their hapless victims. Holed up inside Mrs Perch's isolated home, Julia, Paul and a ragtag group of fellow survivors must find a way to escape the dogged and determined marauding insects before they become food... or something worse.

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): It may not be entirely necessary to explain this following on from that synopsis, but Stung is a fun film. It feels like a real throwback to the splattery effects-driven genre features of the Eighties, combined with the campy fun of older creature feature B-movies. These influences can be seen dotted throughout writer Adam Aresty's script, as there are plenty of genre in-jokes for the eagle-eyed viewer. Director Diez has built his reputation as a VFX guru and this is certainly one of the strongest areas of the film. With some wonderful practical effects used to bring the monstrous wasps to life (plus some ghoulishly gooey gore effects to highlight the sticky fate of their unfortunate victims), as well as some polished digital effects for some full body and flying shots of the wasps, visually the film is a treat.

It's not only the effects that please the eye either, as the cinematography by Stephan Burchardt is quite stunning at times. From exquisite lighting to sharp and artistic framing, Stung LOOKS like an expensive film. When a picture is built around such an arresting visual conceit, it is always a pleasure to see the execution match the filmmakers' ambition. 
Of course, great visuals (and these are great indeed) are not enough to make an entertaining flick — characters and wit are also necessary.
Thankfully Aresty's story provides enough of both to keep the audience engaged. Sure the characters are a little one-note, but compared to the no-note shiny hipsters that seem to be filling up the cast in most recent Found Footage teen horror releases, they really are a breath of fresh air. This is helped by the performances of a very strong cast. 
Lance Fucking Henriksen is a living legend, a genre star who's very appearance is often enough to elevate whatever he's in to watchable at the very least. He's superb here (as expected) playing a suave lush of a mayor, quietly confident of re-election and coasting by on charm and free booze. Signing an actor of Henriksen's ability was a major coup for the production team and it was definitely one that has paid dividends. 
Equally as impressive a casting decision was that of veteran, multi-award winner Collins. He's another tremendous character actor and he shows such range with his portrayal of Stanley that he may well steal the show. From sadly pathetic to totally frightening, he's a true force to behold on the screen. Utterly, utterly magnificent.
It's not just the supporting players that hold their own, our leads are also impressive. Cook and O'Leary are inherently likeable, a vital factor when a film gives us everyman characters to root for.
Cook gives us just the right amount of feistiness and resolve to not come across as a weak damsel in distress or cold and insensitive pain in the neck. Likewise, O'Leary's Paul is laid back and easygoing without ever coming across as a layabout or liability. These factors give the couple's burgeoning relationship some obstacles to overcome, but they also add to the element of surprise/contrast when the pair show another side, be it more sentimental and passionate or driven and determined. Yet more simple but incredibly effective writing.
And that, ultimately, is Stung's greatest saving grace. Sure, it'll make for a killer VFX showreel for the team that assembled the movie's monster hornets, but it is the heart present in the script that really lingers. There's plenty of humour on display, both in the dialogue and the actions of the characters, that guarantees the film entertains. However, there's also some characters that keep your attention as more than a source of gags and even a romantic sub-plot that you kind of can't help but root for.
Who'd've thought that a flick about killer mutant wasps could actually have a little emotional depth too?

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): While I love the fact that Stung delivers laughs along with its character work and chills, it does feel a little bit like it's stuck somewhere between the two. Ultimately, this means that it never quite goes for the jugular as batshit, screwball comedy or chilling horror flick. Dare I say that by aiming for too many targets it never really hits the bullseye at any one?
That isn't to say that it under performs — far from it, as the movie is very entertaining and totally satisfying. It's just that with a little more focus it could well have taken the film to whole new heights. With a bit more drive it could well have become a cult-classic splatter flick or gross-out comedy, instead it feels a little like it finds a comfortable groove quite early on and never really ventures out of it.
Elsewhere, while I liked the character work on those that the film deemed worthy of attention, the scale did feel a little small. There was a whole party full of guests at the point that the wasps crash Mrs Perch's bash. I can't help but feel that if just one or two more had made it into the mansion they could have added something to the dynamic, while also upping the ante in the various stalking scenes once the malevolent insects make their way inside. The shame here is that seeing the great work done with the leads and main supporting cast, I can't help but feel that Aresty could have given us some more great characters to dig. 
Finally, in a related note, while I loved the great gore work we do get, I'd have loved to see a bigger body count. Sure we get the party massacre scene but that doesn't actually give us anywhere near as many gruesome splattery deaths as you might expect. With just a couple more characters making it inside (or circling the house), we could have got some more gore gags and innovative kill sequences that could definitely have boosted the pace during the more quiet, talky second act. I'm not implying that it drags, but like my previous qualms, with just a little more focus and effort it could have truly shone.

THE VERDICT: Stung is a great Friday night flick — think beers, a few buddies, the greasy snack of your choice and plenty of fun. The cast is marvellous, the effects sterling and the gags and kills are guaranteed to have you squealing for all the right reasons. Diez and Aresty make quite the team and I can't wait to see what the pair come up with for genre fans in the future. For now though, if you want your horror with plenty of throwback charm, Stung is a movie you will not regret tracking down. Check it out.

Stung will be released in the UK on DVD on 26th October. Pre-order it at Amazon here.

In the meantime, check out the film's official Facebook page for more information.

UK readers planning to attend the Film4 FrightFest will be delighted to hear that the film will playing on the Main Screen on Thursday 27th August.

Read my previous Film4 Frightfest special reviews for Suspension hereThe Nightmare here and Wind Walkers here.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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