87 Minutes and Entirely Non-Tantric: Stung, and How Not to Get That Way

Stung (2015)
Dir: Benni Diez
TC4P Rating: 4/9

Wasps are fuckers.

I can look at most predatory species and recognize the beauty behind nature's design even when it results in the death of smaller, weaker creatures. But wasps are fuckers. I defend sharks and spiders from people who are afraid of them, who see only terror where I see wonder at the natural order of things and for efficiency and cunning. Wasps are still fuckers. I can even look at common social insects like wasps -- such as ants, bees, and termites -- and after recognizing both the benefits and downsides of all species, come out with a solid realization of just how necessary they are to the planet. But with wasps, even understanding their place in our world (they are vital in controlling many invasive and pest species of insects), I can only come to one conclusion. Wasps are just plain horrid, scary fuckers.

I think it is because wasps seem to take delight in being outright assholes. I think that if you were able to ask a wasp one on one if they took pleasure in messing with your day, the wasp would just stare back straight at you with its big waspy eyes... and then stab you right in the thorax. Because they are fuckers.

And I have had a few run-ins with wasps and hornets (which are categorized as wasps) over the years, and have learned they are not something with which one should mess. I am wholly unafraid of bees when they are zipping about, but show me one wasp and I give the area a wide berth. For me, their over-the-top aggression is more brutal than necessary, and in that way, I guess they seem a little more human to me than other species. And that form of humanity is something I prefer to avoid at all costs.

The other day, I wrote about a small film called Harbinger Down that was created with the intent of showcasing the use of practical special effects over the currently preferred measure of computer-generated effects. While the film ultimately fails on a dramatic level, its intent and the eventual execution of its effects work was sincere and ably done. While I did not love the film, I liked it and truly enjoyed the attempt. It gives you a cool looking monster, gets you caught up in the action, and delivers a finale that makes the trip worthwhile.

Here now is Stung, another such attempt at showcasing practical effects, but which has wasps as the main antagonists. (As if wasps could be anything but...) Immediately, I assumed there was going to be an extra scare and "ick" factor involved, simply because of the giant wasps (especially if they were even halfway to being done well). And Stung does have a doozy of a poster (see above), and while I know that I should never do that whole "book-judging-cover" thing, from the outside view, Stung looked interesting. 

Once I heard about it, that is. I didn't know Stung existed until my buddy Aaron sent me a message on Facebook saying he had just watched it. "Pretty neat effects and creature work, but really really boring go-nowhere story," he wrote. This did not kill the movie for me, though, since I am a "monster first" kind of guy. All Aaron did was guarantee that I would have to see for myself if the effects and creature work were indeed pretty neat. And the story? They have stories in these things?

Stung starts with a pair of caterers -- the driver, Paul, and his boss, Julia -- and they are as mismatched as hell. Paul finds her attractive but Julia is wholly committed to making a go of the catering business after inheriting it from her father; he, at least in what we are given to go on, is somewhat of a loser who would rather party on and smoke weed than work hard or make a good impression. And yet, making an impression is exactly what Paul wants to do in regards to Julia, but she has no respect for him, and rolls her eyes at his awkward attempts at establishing a rapport with her. Preparing for a party on a huge estate owned by a widowed matriarch and her reclusive son, Paul seems to run afoul of Julia's gaze with every step.

Then the wasps attack. The wasps are relatively normal at first, bigger than they should be but not outrageously so, only where anyone passing them would give them as wide a berth as possible. But as the party kicks in (though it never really seems to get kicking, and in fact, seems like it is barely populated by anyone except a handful of guests), the wasps get more and more aggressive. When they start attacking the guests with force, and the running and screaming start, it seems like a basic bug attack movie. Then, from out of the mouth of an attractive MILF, who had hit on Paul just a few moments earlier, come a pair of enormous insect limbs, and then her face and body split apart as an almost fully formed, human-sized wasp replaces the MILF. The film takes a turn here, as the partygoers finds itself being taken over one by one by gigantic wasps. Guest with even the slightest sense of survival flee for the mansion and lock the doors behind them.

From here, Stung becomes one in which the small contingent of actors who were paid to deliver lines do battle against the wasps, trying in vain to keep them from entering the mansion, and also discovering that those who had been stung by the wasps outside have the potential to turn into wasps themselves. From the information that I can gather from Stung, the filmmakers have combined social and solitary, parasitoid and predatory wasps into one huge wasp species, and given the creatures in this film the ability to reproduce in multiple ways. There is clearly a queen wasp introduced in this film and she is quite evidently laying eggs. There is even an attempt to ram one of her pupae down the throat of a certain character, and I assume the intent is for the pupae to feed on that person's insides. 

But there is no way that the people being rendered from the inside out at the party, which hasn't been going on that long when the attack happens, could have been turned to mulch so quickly nor would there have been opportunity to introduce larvae into their systems in the first place. Unless the wasps were pumping their eggs into the hors d'oeuvres (something which we never see, by the way). And even taking into account the vagaries of monster movie science, while insects the size of the ones in this film are a physical impossibility, it is hard to swallow that their exoskeletons, rather necessary for their bodies to operate and keep form, could have hardened so quickly, especially in what seems to be mere minutes in many cases.

Despite the basic unbelievability of the hybridization of wasp characteristics, I am happy to report that I too found the creature effects -- averaged out, of course -- as neat as Aaron did. There were a few moments that had me cringing as the filmmakers would wish, and I chalk this up to their having sold the illusion properly to me. Like Harbinger Down, the discarded facial skins of the victims can be seen hanging off the limbs or body of the monster, and I found it as effectively gruesome here as I did in that film. The film is exceptionally gory, as it should be, and there is a genuine sense of menace from the invading creatures through much of the film. 

However, after watching the much superior creature puppetry, the small bits of CGI that have been used in Stung stick out like the red lipstick that your least favorite aunt's poodle pops out at you every time you are forced to pet him on your bi-monthly visits. There is a fire effect used late in the film that looks terrible close up during the action in which it is used, and looks even worse from a distance when we see it on top of a vehicle flying down the road. Bad digital fire and explosions have already ruined at least one episode of Psych for me, along with other shows and films. Here, it just made me laugh out loud after I had been fairly, though not totally, caught up in the ceaseless wasp attack. And, by the way, fire apparently does not burn either insect or human flesh even when both are enveloped in what must be several minutes. This I learned from Stung.

Stung does have a couple of strong cards hidden in its hand. The first is that the slimy, skeezy son of the matriarch who owns the estate is played by Clifton Collins, Jr., and true to form, he is gives his usual, off-kilter performance in what could have been a nothing role. (It's still not much of a role, however.) He's twitchy, he's nervous, and he's beyond weird, and fits in well with the premise in which he is more than likely to have had a hand in bringing down on his party guests. Stung is also brightened by the presence of Lance Henriksen, who just so happened to appear in Harbinger Down as well. As the mayor of the town in which the estate is located, Henriksen gets a chance for a little character work before the film becomes rife with bug attacks for good. He, unfortunately has to deal with lines like "That young man has balls of steel. To be a man you have to be a man." And to be an actor, you have to deliver your lines, whether they are weighted down by stupidity or not. Henriksen does his job, and with his practically trademarked gravitas makes us believe that his character means every dumb thing he says.

But the lead characters are where the film has real problems (besides that stupid fire scene). The actors (Jessica Cook and Matt O'Leary) are appealing and do fine with what they have been given, but Stung tries both too hard (at first) and then not hard at all (the remainder of the film) to convince us that these two belong together. There was potential for some fun toying with sexual politics here, but it gets squandered and resorts to the obvious at every turn. Paul, a nebbish basically rejected by Julia at the beginning of the film (though it is clear she finds him a little cute), goes Die Hard on the wasps, and we discover there is potentially a man of action underneath his juggling stoner exterior. He takes to fighting giant wasps as if to the manner born, and don't think for a second that Julia doesn't notice this. However, he is no Bruce Willis, and there are definite limits to his badassery. To counter this, Julia will get ample opportunity to strip down to her inner Ripley and save Paul's bacon more than once. (She has a good cry first before she releases the Rip though.)

I guess someone could argue that the filmmakers are just trying to outguess our expectations for each character, but from the way the behavior of the wasps were not so carefully considered, it is hard to believe any discussion of the motivations of Paul and Julia went beyond, "They don't realize they are perfect for each other. Then he goes nuts on the wasps, and then she goes nuts on the wasps. And then maybe they bang."

In the end, despite the fun wasp attacks, I enjoyed Stung far less than I did Harbinger Down. Because of moments like the CGI fire scene, Stung comes closer to the territory that I thought it was going to represent when I first put it on, which was in the realm of a Syfy-style, tongue-in-cheek production where there would be little regard given to making the effects work even semi-believable. To their credit, director Benni Diez and his crew (the film is a German production filmed in English) do a decent job in making Stung as watchable as it is. If you just want to see a film where giant wasps attack a group of truly stupid humans, this is your huckleberry.

But if you like your burning bugs nice and crispy (and your side dish composed of charred human forearm), you are going to be disappointed.

Comments

EggOfTheDead said…
This was fun early on but less so as the ensemble was picked off. The romance was kinda cute and the scenario reminded me of "Party Down," which I love. Henriksen was a riot!

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