Stung (Movie Review)

Stung (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: A posh garden party deep in the country is unceremoniously brought to a gore-sodden halt when a swarm of gigantic, genetically engineered wasps go on the attack.

REVIEW: Having only a trio of short film credits to his name until now, director Benni Diez has vibrantly parlayed is VFX acumen toward his first feature STUNG, a ultra-grue-swollen B-movie sure to leave its lasting mark among fans of the man-vs.-nature subgenre. With great veneration for the camp and schlock of 70s and 80s creature-features while simultaneously pushing the VFX boundaries forward, for the most part, STUNG delivers exactly what it intends to. That is, a whole lot of redness! Some first time script issues that account for a few dull lulls, and an odd juxtaposition between blockbuster visuals and low-budget sensibilities aside, STUNG soars over the spate of endless SyFy monster movies with its first rate VFX design and veteran acting roster. Come on guys, we're talking giant bloodletting bees, what's else do you need?!

Paul (Matt O'Leary) and Julia (Jessica Cook) are a pair of caterers assigned to work the elderly socialite Ms. Perch's annual garden party out in the countryside. As they cruise their delivery van up to the ill-fated destination, we sense Paul has an unreciprocated crush on Jess. And why not, she's a knockout. Anyway, they arrive rapidly at the large manor and soon meet Ms. Perch's son Sydney (the unrecognizable Clifton Collins Jr.), a goggle and sweater-vest wearing neo-maxie-zoom-dweebie. We can tell something's amiss with this fella right from jump-street. Yikes. Meanwhile, as Paul sets up lights, tables and tends to the bar before the big shindig blasts off, the faint din of a wasp can be heard in the background. Paul shakes it off. After-all, the party is beginning to swell, with local politician Caruthers (the great Lance Henriksen) distinguishing himself as a powerful presence among a crowd of rich, stuffy old folk. Even better, Paul sparks a doobie with a younger guest. The night's looking better and brighter, right?

Yeah, not so much. Just when the party grows too boring to bear, up from the ground comes a voracious swarm of giant, bloodthirsty bees. Mutant bees! Turns out Sydney may have inadvertently juiced up some fertilizer with a dose of HGH. Not too wise. The few dozen patrons dispersed across the lawn are instantly gouged, ravaged, and if lucky, gorily eviscerated into a sticky puddle of bloody flesh-matter. If unlucky, one of the huge bees will bite your ass and you'll quite instantaneously morph into a 7-foot tall mega-monster bee. It's madness. Utter chaos. Yet somehow, through a daring and harrowing escape or two, Paul, Julia, Sydney and Caruthers all make their way into the house seemingly unscathed. And this is where the film becomes a bored-it-up, keep-em-out style thriller, all the while fraught with the shut-in paranoia of who may have been bitten, a la THE THING. It's up to Paul to keep Julia and himself safe, both inside the house and out. Think he can pull it off?

Look, I'm sure most creature-feature aficionados will agree that STUNG does nothing to reinvent the wheel. Instead, the flick adheres to a tried and true b-movie formula and elevates or transcends the subgenre through its eye-bugging VFX work and high quality of acting. I mentioned THE THING earlier, but there's also deliciously repulsive nods to THE FLY as well, at least in terms of the hideous insectile design of the monster-mega-bees. Carpenter and Cronenberg definitely shine through here. At the same time, there's obvious heartfelt homage to 70s creature features like THE SWARM, FROGS, and those kinds of silly, over-the-top camp-shows that are meant to be taken not so seriously. STUNG has a more austere tone, I'll grant you that, but in the end, it's still a carnivorous killer bee movie that works well where it should.

That's not to say there aren't script issues. There are. First time screenwriter Adam Aresty gets bogged down by taking the whole peaks-and-valleys notion of screenwriting a little too literally. The valleys here are too wide, too slow, too inane, resulting in a few really dull lulls in between the hectic bloodshed. The sheer fun and the high-wattage energy of the attack scenes get sapped a bit, particularly when very little mention is made of the bees and how they're all going to deal with the horrific ordeal. And while it does strike me as odd that they don't, pardon the pun, drone on about the situation at hand...instead try to build character through back-story and strange non-sequiturs...I do admire that the film didn't feel the need to overexpose with lame scientific jargon. Tainted fertilizer. Bees. That's it!

Beyond that, I think the film has a good sense of humor, but not a great one. There could be a few more laughs or an overall more jaunty tone. Also, I found the romantic angle only halfway buyable...cute but hardly necessary. Worse yet though, about an hour in I felt the film weirdly lack a dramatic arc. It felt a bit flat. One note. But all that changed, my good friends, the instant a goddamn foul maggot scene showed up and cruelly conjured the heinous nightmares from a movie I saw long ago. I won't spoil this particular scenario, but if you've happened to see GALAXY OF TERROR, yup, expect an equally icky, squirmy, squeamish bit of repugnant bile. Seriously, I'm talking goopy viscera, slimy pulp-matter and oodles of gore!

Aside from the exceptional VFX and exorbitant amount of gore, it's the acting of O'Leary and Collins in particular that really makes the film sail. I've long liked this O'Leary guy since seeing him in BRICK about a decade ago, and he only continues to get better and more versatile on screen. Here he strikes the right note of goofy, charming, manly...but more importantly, believable, likeable. Collins on the other hand totally immerses himself into a role you'd never imagine him doing. Over the top at times, sure, but holy hell, what an unbearable creep Sydney is in the movie. Just the pits. Of course, the credibility and gravitas Henriksen brings is always invaluable, even if he only has a handful of scenes. Point is, with lesser actors the flick would suffer interminably. I'd be a glorified SyFy flick. So expect the opposite. Expect your ass to get STUNG!

Extra Tidbit: STUNG hits theaters on July 24th.
Source: AITH



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