It Came from Netflix! Infestation (2009)

I had put up the trailer for this highly entertaining-looking giant bug flick earlier this year, and I am glad to say that the movie lived up to my hopes. Obviously it’s hard not to compare such a thing (especially since it’s a very low-budget film shot in Bulgaria and featuring one somewhat known TV actor in the cast) to the endless and inevitably lame (at best) run of such flicks that appear on the SyFy Network as ‘original movies.’

The difference is announced right with the opening credits, which ape the wacky frenzied credit sequences of Sam Raimi. This spotlights the main quality this film possesses that your Syfy movies don’t, which is that it’s fun. Sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on something until you get that final piece, and this was one of those situation. SyFy has made dozens and dozens (hundreds) of killer animal movies over the years, and exactly how many of those have been fun? Not a whole lot.

Take humor. The very acme of humor in your average Syfy movie—if it sports even that—is to have somebody react to whatever situation is occurring in it by noting, “It’s like something out of a bad science fiction movie!” Ha, that line gets funnier EVERY SINGLE DAMN TIME I HEAR IT. Because of that, if I hear it even one more time I’ll laugh so hard my brain will hemorrhage and I’ll die. So I keep a pretty keen grip on my remote whenever I bother to watch those these days.

Infestation seems to follow in the footsteps of Shaun of the Dead, and while it’s not nearly that good (how many movies are?), it’s not an embarrassing comparison by any means. Mostly this means that most of the humor from the film derives from its characters, all of whom are distinct individuals with *gasp* separate personalities and distinct ways of looking at the world.

The film does at least a couple of things very right. First, there’s no human villain to waste time on. I remember how glad I was to hear that Piranha 3-D was going that route, and this proves that I was on the right track in this regard. Amazingly, the filmmakers apparently thought there was enough juice in a giant bug apocalypse to drive the narrative, and that eeeevil military or corporate scientists were not required.

Second, the movie gets into things very quickly. Ironically for a movie that has real characterization, this one doesn’t have the interminable “let’s meet all our generic cardboard characters and hang out with them for a while before getting to the monster stuff, because, you know, we only had enough money for about five minutes of CGI shots.”

Speaking of, Infestation uses CGI (it would have to), but also uses practical effects whenever, well, practical. Needless to say, it won my approval on those grounds as well.

So anyway, the central idea is that the film’s sad sack slacker lead (who amazingly isn’t really annoying, except when he’s supposed to be) wakes up after a brief intro period to find he’s been cocooned. He tears himself free, and finds that all the folks around him are in similar straits. More worrisome is the appearance of one of the huge (think large dog-sized) beetles that webbed everyone up. He manages to defeat the beastie, and frees a few other people, before venturing outside to find that this situation is pretty much universal.

One of the nice things about the movie is that people react to the situation in different ways. Some don’t want to believe it and generally just freak out, while others just accept what’s before them, shrug, and do their best to deal with it. Again, the various people are fairly well drawn. I mean, the film won’t win any Oscars, but this isn’t the sort of movie where you ever go, “Wait, who is that again?”

Eventually everyone sets out road tripping, deciding to track down various relatives. This brings Cooper face to face with his dad Ethan, from whom he is quite estranged. This is quite believable although for the audience Ethan is a sheer delight, played as he is by the highly entertaining Ray Wise, best known for having played the Devil on the TV show Reaper.

Cooper has never gotten much respect from his military hardass dad. However, much to my pleasurable surprise, Ethan is crusty but highly likable, in no way the killcrazy and/or brittle martinet we usually get in these things. Think the Kirkwood Smith dad on That ‘70s Show.

I should note that even the element I found most worrisome in the trailer, the mutant man-insect combo beasts, were actually handled well. Frankly, like a human villain, I’ve always found this sort of subplot a needless digression from the central issue at hand, even in film I really otherwise enjoyed, like Black Sheep. Here, though, it actually kind of worked. I’m still not sure I would have gone that way myself, but I can’t really bitch in this case.

I could go more into things, but hey, why blow anything for you guys who haven’t seen the movie yet. I will say that a) this is the sort of solid effort that you hope for when you rent pile after pile of generally awful DTV monster movies, and b) that this is again the sort of film that makes you wonder what these guys are getting that so many other people toiling in the same field don’t. Why isn’t the norm a lot closer to Infestation, which is good but not great, than to [insert pretty much any Syfy ‘original movie’ title here]? In any case, definitely one to add to your Netflix list.

  • Speaking as an amateur entomologist (it was my major in graduate school, too). The general effect of combining an insect with a human would be to make the insect less efficient and deadly. Kind of like when they combnied the Alian with Sigourney Weaver in Alien IV – not as scary as the normal monster.

  • Ericb

    “The general effect of combining an insect with a human would be to make the insect less efficient and deadly”

    But sticking an actor into a humanoid/bug costume is probably cheaper and easier than operating a giant bug practical effect.

  • Ericb

    Oh, and I just watched Mimic the other day and they foundd a nice compromise on the human/bug hybrid thing whereby they could operate a practical effect as an actor in a costume and still keep the bug as a bug.

  • roger h

    This mini review reminds me of watching “Teenager from Outer Space” the other night. I had not seen it in years and missed the MST3K version. I was amazed at how well it was done for a low budget film.

    The story moves along, interesting dialog, actual suspense, no long batches of filler. I kept thinking back to Coleman Francis films and wondering why it is so difficult for some. It ain’t just money.

  • P Stroud

    Adding to netflix que. Only 5 more Hammers to go first. Your review reminds me of another direct-to-video Terminator ripoff called “Death Machine”. It’s actually quite good. Several people are trapped in a building with a military robot controlled by Brad Dourif! Worth a view IMHO. Certainly far better than the average SyFy Original dreck…. and better than a lot of stuff that gets theatrical release.

  • professorKettlewell

    I liked the look of this movie from the trailer. Ken’s review made me very interested Now if you can please assure me that it doesn’t contain one of those ‘ultimate crack Special Forces units’ who start bickering and breaking chain of command and saying stuff like “You can stick around here and get killed, but that’s not why I signed up, CAAAAP-tain” which also seem to be a big favourite of Sci-Fi channel original movies, I am SOLD.

  • Astoundingly, IT DOES NOT!

  • professorKettlewell

    Praise the lord and pass the ammunition! I am THERE!!