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“Infested” is a potent creature feature that foregoes camp and B-movie playfulness in favor of making you squirm out of your chair.

Infested

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Less than 1% of the world’s 50,000 known spider species have venom that can cause adverse effects in humans. Of those, less than 30 species have been responsible for human deaths, which is less than one-tenth of one percent. In fact, most spiders are harmless. Despite that fact, just the sight of a spider can send shivers down most people’s spines and leave them running for cover.

Similar to the public perception of sharks in the wake of Jaws (which only kill about one person per year), these fairly extraordinary eight-legged creatures became the embodiment of absolute creepy, crawly terror.

They may pose little real threat, but spiders are what a horror writer would invent to inflict nightmares if they didn’t already exist in real life — with their large chelicerae and abdomens, hairy bodies, multiple pairs of eyes, and fangs, and jittery movements.

Thus, it’s shockingly surprising how rarely we get a spider horror movie — especially one that’s truly terrifying. This year, however, Shudder has gifted us (or cursed us, depending on your level of arachnophobia) with two great spider movies.

While the other spider movie, Sting, is fantastic and wildly fun, it pales to how hard Infested goes in delivering nightmare-inducing, eight-legged horror.

When I saw the film at its SXSW 2024 screening, I (along with the rest of the midnight horror audience) was literally squirming in my seat. Squirming may be an understatement, in fact. I was contorting, pulling my knees up to my chin, burying my face in my chest, melting like a stick of butter left in the sun, and nearly sliding to the floor.

Mind you, I’m no lightweight; rarely does a movie affect me like this one did.

Infested (also known as Vermines) is the feature debut of French director Sebastien Vanicek (co-writing with Florent Bernard). While Sting is a horror comedy with B-movie charm that pays homage to films like Arachnophobia, Infested is horror with a capital H. There’s no humor, only an abundance of “oh my god” scares to satisfy the most hardened horror fans.

Kaleb (Theo Christine) lives in a run-down apartment building in Paris with his sister Manon (Lisa Nyarko) following the death of their mother. Kaleb tries to make ends meet by re-selling collectible sneakers and fills the emotional void by collecting exotic animals.

His latest purchase is an illegally obtained spider from a convenience store owner, Ali (Samir Nait), who happens to run a black market operation out of the back of his store. We learn in the film’s prologue that the spider was obtained at the cost of several lives, and this does not bode well for its unsuspecting new owner.

Oblivious to how dangerous his new pet is, he lovingly nicknames it Rihanna and keeps it in a shoebox. But when Rihanna inevitably gets loose in the building, she rapidly spawns hundreds of menacing offspring, resulting in the building becoming—as indicated by the film’s unnerving title—infested.

That’s not an understatement. There are spiders EVERYWHERE, a ridiculous and dread-inducing number of spiders.

Because these spiders can rapidly reproduce, it’s not long before the building itself becomes a giant spider web, with thousands of spiders lurking in every crevice and crawling along every wall and ceiling.

As if that’s not enough to shake any sensible person to the core, these spiders also mutate and become larger with every generation they are bred. At normal size, they create a hellscape, but that fear only accelerates like a vicious freight train as the film progresses.

The police aggressively quarantine the building, trapping the residents inside and making escape impossible.

Now Kaleb, Manon, and their friends — Mathys (Jérôme Niel), Jordy (Finnegan Oldfield), and Lila (Sofia Lesaffre) — must try to escape and survive a nuclear-level threat.

Yes, Infested is terrifying, truly.

It boasts some mightily effective jump scares and the kind of nerve-wracking suspense that sometimes makes you almost forget to breathe, intensified by the distressing score from Douglas Cavanna and Xavier Caux.

However, it’s also an exceptionally well-made film, with impressive direction from Vanicek, creative cinematography, stellar world-building, and effective production design work.

It features strong, fleshed-out characters with believable rapport brought to life by highly capable actors, especially a compelling and emotional turn from Christine as Kaleb. This makes the film surprisingly emotional while never pulling the foot off the gas or skimping on any of the ample arachnid chaos.

It’s even packing a potent socio-political message that gives it depth and an extra layer of bleak monstrosity. Yet, it never gets too maudlin or mired in the harsh reality of real-life-inspired human horror.

At the end of the day, Vanicek knows why audiences show up for a creature feature with a title like INFESTED, and he more than delivers when it comes to the main attraction.

Using real spiders whenever possible and shockingly realistic CGI when necessary, these spiders all look disturbingly real. Though restrained and stopping short of a B-movie splatterfest, a fair amount of well-executed gore should make horror fans giddy. Some particularly standout moments will creep in and infest your long-term memory.

For example, there’s an insanely tense sequence toward the end when the group tries to escape through a cramped, spider-infested corridor in the dark. It plays on almost every major fear you might have, and it’s almost impossibly hard to watch — in the best way possible.

There’s also a requisite bathroom scene that’s sure to elicit a reaction, no matter how stoic you tend to remain in horror films or how little spiders usually get under your skin.

Vanicek is undoubtedly poised for incredible things in the genre. In fact, the film impressed producer Sam Raimi so much that he hand-picked Vanicek to help make the new Evil Dead spin-off movie.

Believe the hype; Infested is one of the most effective spider horror movies — one of the most effective creature features, period, for that matter — in decades.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

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