BUFF24: If You Don’t Fear Spiders, You Will After Infested

Image courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival / Exile PR

It seems as if we’re celebrating an arachnid Spring in horror this year. Wyrmwood director Kiah Roache-Turner’s Sting is about to spread the creepy crawlies in theaters next week (April 12). Then there’s Chandler Riggs’ horror take on Spider-Man, The Spider, a fan-made film garnering widespread attention for an imminent YouTube direct release. And finally, Sébastien Vanicek, the little-known director recently tapped to direct the next Evil Dead movie, will spin his web with Infested (Vermines) landing on Shudder later this month. So, if you’re a horror fan and an arachnophobe, you may want to choose a horror sabbatical this April. And, if you’re not afraid of spiders, well…you may soon be.

A spider in a plastic container
Image courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival / Exile PR

Infested starts in the desert sands of the Middle East, where a group of men find a hole in the ground and douse it full of chemicals to lure out the spiders. It would seem, at first, that these men are desperately trying to defend themselves from a troublesome plague. The urgency with which they move and the quick cuts of the camera help build immediate tension with focused urgency. Vanicek’s setup radiates genius because everything goes by so quickly, and when he pauses for even a moment, we come to suspect the worst is on its way. The score provided by Xavier Caux and Douglas Cavanna aids Vanicek’s anxiety-inducing scares, too, knowing just when to rise and fall and impactfully generate the most ribcage-knocking heart palpitations you’ll experience this year.

Once it’s discovered these men in the desert are there to capture the spiders, even after losing one of their own, Infested begins to take shape. We’re then introduced to Kaleb (Théo Christine), a hustler without focus and zero ambition of getting caught up in a nine-to-five job. Kaleb moves sneakers, resells jewelry, and keeps an exotic menagerie of less-than-legal animals and insects. Still grieving the loss of his recently deceased mother, Kaleb’s at odds with his sister (Sofia Lesaffre), who continuously turns the electricity to his habitats off so she can conserve money for updating their mother’s apartment and prepare it for sale.

Kaleb brings home one of the deadly spiders to add to his collection, and it quickly gets loose, claims its first victim, and multiplies. Killing one of these spiders releases the egg sack, too, allowing the invasive species to outnumber the residents of Kaleb’s high-rise apartment complex in a matter of hours. When the police put the building under quarantine, the fun really begins, and Kaleb, his sister, and their group of friends must try to help their neighbors as they fight to survive the infestation and find a way out of the quarantine.

Spiders infiltrate a van door window in Infested.
Image courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival / Exile PR

With the creep factor so high, there’s no way you won’t be squirming in your seat throughout the movie. Infested is guaranteed nightmare fuel. There are times it will remind you of 1992’s Arachnophobia, having the same sort of fun jump-scare feeling. But, being more of an R-rated affair, Infested operates on a less hokey and more horrifying level, which results in real pulse-pounding distress.

Sitting in the Brattle Theatre last week, minutes before Infested screened, a Boston Underground Film Festival programmer was finishing their introduction. He warned the audience that if they even had a small fear of spiders, the film would likely exacerbate it and proceeded to liken those viewers to masochists. I took a quick inventory of my deepest fears, and spiders were not very high on the list.

Yet, when the film got to its most harrowing scene, where the characters have to walk through a claustrophobic hallway dodging webs and spiders on the walls under the pressure of a light switch on a not-so-generous timer, I was a mess. I was so anxious I almost got up to walk around and settle my nerves. In addition to that, the various contrasts of light and darkness created moving shadows against the balcony in my periphery, and I found myself succumbing to exactly what I was warned about. Where I had rated my own arachnophobia at about a three or four at the start of the film, it was pushed to eleven by the finale.

Image courtesy of The Boston Underground Film Festival / Exile PR

Infested makes you paranoid that there are spiders all around you, and you’re ready to jump and brush them off alongside the characters in every scene. The sound design is clever, having me intensely peek at the speakers whenever a slight crackle or scurrying is keyed into the surround sound. Great sound does a lot of heavy lifting in a film like this, working in conjunction with the actors and visuals to drive home the experience.

In one scene, Kaleb and his friend go to check on an elderly neighbor, and the room is alive with scare potential and limitless possibilities. As Kaleb readies his hand around a corner, the viewer reacts. As they doggedly stagger toward the neighbor sitting in her chair, lit by the glow of the television light, the viewer dreads the next frame. Vanicek is so well aware of his audience’s anticipation that he’s able to subvert their expectations. The panic that Infested‘s spiders can come from anywhere sets in early. It is easy to understand why Vanicek got the job on the next Evil Dead film. When you see how he crafts Infested’s big moments and how he paces transitions, you’ll understand, too.

The film’s central theme centers around growth and change, but I can’t say it’s the film’s highest selling point. It’s actually pretty conventional. The actors drive home the thematic importance of family better than the script, but the real reason you’re there is for the spidey shocks, and Infested surely delivers on that.

Infested played as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival. The movie premieres on Shudder on April 26.

Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston. He loves great concerts, all types of movies, video games, and all things nerd culture.

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