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“Infested” Offers Sick Thrills

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | April 24th, 2024

Infested (Sébastien Vanicek, 2023) 3½ out of 5 stars

Spiders are a vital part of our ecosystem, and in recent years I have fought against my earlier tendencies to kill them inside the home. Still, I wish they could avoid building webs across my walkway, as there’s something particularly unsettling about stepping through those sticky strands. In the new French film Infested, the feature debut of director Sébastien Vanicek, there are many spiders, of all different sizes, and many webs. The difference between these and the ones in my garden is their venom. They kill, and you most definitely don’t want them around.

The original title, in French, is “Vermines,” which is a cognate to its English equivalent, and speaks to the film’s twin objectives. On the one hand, this is a creepy horror film where many people suffer gruesome deaths; on the other hand, it’s a metaphor for how the larger French society (and, really, societies everywhere) treats the disenfranchised, who are here represented by the working poor of immigrant background. Mostly, though, we are treated to arachnids on the attack.

Théo Christine in INFESTED ©Shudder

In a prologue set in the North African desert, some animal traffickers capture a number of what appear to be extremely poisonous spiders (based on what happens to one of the guys). The film then cuts to the Paris suburbs, where a young man named Kaleb (Théo Christine, Gran Turismo), who keeps an amateur bug and lizard zoo at home, buys one of these same spiders from a black-market dealer. Unaware of what he now possesses, Kaleb brings the furry critter to the apartment he shares with sister Manon (Lisa Nyarko). Young twentysomething orphans, the siblings are at odds about whether to sell the place or not. Soon none of that will matter.

For of course the spider escapes. It also soon proliferates (on a massive scale, too). As we learn, this particular breed adapts in size (and, apparently, breeding capabilities) based on the predator it faces. Given that humans are much larger than what it confronts in the desert, the progeny quickly grow. No one stands a chance. Still, it’s hard not to chuckle at the improbability of such a rapid spurt.

Still from INFESTED ©Shudder

The local police do not help matters by barricading the residents inside the rundown (though architecturally impressive) complex, preferring to sacrifice them in the name of saving everyone else. What follows is a gross-out bloodbath, our frail bodies no match for the tough, not-so-little predators. Death, where is thy sting? On all floors.

The cast is universally excellent. Beyond Christine and Nyarko, standouts include Sofia Lesaffre (Revoir Paris), Jérôme Niel (Smoking Causes Coughing), and Finnegan Oldfield (Corsage). The visual effects also impress, as does the sound design, especially of the spiders’ movements. Despite the larger efforts at social commentary, however, the film never quite amounts to much beyond a creature-feature, though it does that well enough. We emerge with the sensation of thousands of feet crawling all over us, an infestation of the cinematic soul that’s not so easy to shake.

l-r: Théo Christine, Jérôme Niel, Lisa Nyarko, Finnegan Oldfield, and Sofia Lesaffre in INFESTED ©Shudder

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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