de facto film reviews 3 stars

The new spider-attack creature feature Infested (Fr. Vermines) is a step away from the nastiest and most depraved of the New French Extremity of the early-to-mid 2000s. However, it effectively clarifies how foreign horror differs from much of our domestic product by introducing an intrinsically demented vision to an otherwise familiar concept many Western films take for granted. Whereas movies like Arachnophobia or Eight Legged Freaks blend creepy-crawly scenes with humor, Infested is pure horror through and through, rarely holding back on the nauseating arachnoid terror to deliver an increasingly chaotic thrill ride that would make even the least squeamish viewer recoil.

From its opening scene, French director Sébastien Vanicek’s Infested bares its genuine identity: a tightly shot and unforgiving genre flick that starkly portrays the consequences of underestimating nature. A group of militants somewhere in the Middle East dig up a nest of highly venomous spiders and capture some to sell to the highest bidders, losing one of their own in the process. Near Paris, sneaker reseller Kaleb (Théo Christine) is looking for a gift for a departing neighbor. He happens across one of the deadly arachnids, taking it home to his makeshift reptile zoo. However, when the spider eats through a shoebox, it unleashes a special hell upon the apartment building Kaleb and the other residents call home, underscoring the grave repercussions of their actions.

Infested - Spider

Courtesy of Shudder

In a way, Infested calls to mind the highly entertaining English romp Attack the Block, which features packs of terrifying creatures tormenting a low-incoming housing unit and the brave tenants defending their domain. And, of course, most recently, Sting features an alien arachnid growing to monstrous proportions as it steadily shrinks the occupancy of a wintry New York City apartment complex. As was alluded to, however, Infested makes practically zero room for silver-tongued comedy or over-emotional family drama (aside from a sibling squabble between Kaleb and his sister, Manon, played by Lisa Nyarko).

There is character work present as Kaleb and Manon argue over the future of their unit, which their late mother owned and cherished, and the arrival of Kaleb’s former best friend, Jordy (Finnegan Oldfield), complicates Kaleb’s already stressful day even further. Seemingly reformed bike thief Mathys (Jérôme Niel), Kaleb’s second-in-command, and Jordy’s girlfriend Lila (Sofia Lesaffre) round out the rag-tag group of spider-fighters. While the dynamics of this crew do invite compassion from the viewer (when the characters are not infuriating or annoying, anyway), making unfurling events more impactful, the few individual arcs ultimately fail to mean anything significant in the face of the spider-filled horror.

Infested - Kaleb Screaming

Courtesy of Shudder

When Infested gets going, it is a downright horrifying experience, particularly for arachnophobes. Vanicek and his crew make excellent use of the apartment building setting, shot in the Picasso Arenas in Noisy-le-Grand, France. They dress the interiors up with very realistic spider webbing and gross, practically made bodies of humans and animals alike. The color grading and dim lighting are reminiscent of those New French Extremity films from the turn of the century, and Alexandre Jamin’s is undeniably claustrophobic. Overall, the production accomplishes its goal of trapping the characters and the audience in a multi-level pit of despair, hopelessness, and, naturally, hundreds of spiders, many supposedly real.

Infested - Dead Body

Courtesy of Shudder

At one hour and 46 minutes long, Infested can occasionally feel a bit long, particularly during an oddly paced and mildly confusing finale, and some of the kills are a bit underwhelming. Finally, Vanicek’s efforts to highlight the poor treatment of minorities and low-income housing tenants in France get lost in the shuffle of everything else. Still, those are mostly negligible flaws in a pretty fantastic killer animal genre entry, one of the best in recent memory. Infested offers a much more gritty and relatable experience than many of its spider horror contemporaries and will cause many viewers to keep a much closer eye on the darkest corners of their homes, for good reason.

Infested is now playing on Shudder.