It looks like we’re getting another Deep Impact and Armageddon situation with two deadly spider movies being released nearly simultaneously. Kiah Roach-Turner’s Sting will get the bulk of the attention as it scurries into cinemas, but for now Infested is the best arachnid horror since the classic Arachnophobia. It’s true that apart from a few features involving one of mankind’s most entrenched fears, there hasn’t been too much spider-based carnage in recent decades, but Infested has more of the critters than you could ever want to see. Sébastien Vanicek‘s debut is a little oddly paced, but has a class-conscious core and a pleasantly anarchist ACAB streak.

Kaleb (Théo Christine) is a wheeler-dealer living in a high rise banlieue with his sister Manon (Lisa Nyarko), having inherited their apartment from their late mother. Kaleb has a particular fondness for exotic reptiles and insects. He buys a spider from a shady dealer who doesn’t know exactly what he has on his hands. The spider promptly escapes and before long the whole block is cocooned, the spiders have both multiplied and grown, and the police have quarantined the building.

Vanicek establishes his own diverse colony of all stripes in his high rise where, far from the hotbed of gangs and drugs of perceived wisdom, the residents all rub along pretty well, which makes it all the more brutal when they start to be used as meat hatcheries for wave after wave of scuttling, skittering beasts. Vanicek likes to vary his set pieces, ranging from a frenzied scramble with Manon’s friend Lila (Sofia Lessafre) stuck in a shower cubicle to a taut, drawn out tiptoe down a corridor that’s been turned into one enormous nest. He also varies the special effects well, switching from CGI to practical effects when things get up close and personal. It’s never hugely scary, but there’s a certain unpredictability to the spiders’ movements, size, and levels of aggression, which keeps us and our smart young protagonists on their toes.

Infested also has just about as much hurt as its does legs. The characters are fairly thinly drawn but there is more than enough backstory to see them as more than just massive flies in the ever-expanding network of webs. There is a theme of community and reconciliation; of people with different backgrounds, ethnicities, and generations grouping together. It also hinges on a cruel dramatic irony that it’s the caring, civic-minded Kaleb who is inadvertently responsible for the outbreak. The guilt threatens to hollow him out quicker than any of the spiders could.

Infested leans heavily into its communal, diverse, and working class setting. There’s the rich banlieue setting of the recent Les Miserables or the magic realist Gagarine, the kids vs invaders thrills of Attack the Block, and the paranoiac quarantined claustrophobia of [REC}. It’s an interesting mix of stylistic and thematic progenitors, and Vanicek twists them all into an enjoyable creature feature which could have benefitted from perhaps being a little bit more chaotic and full-on. Still, you’ve got to love a film where a young scamp is willing to sacrifice himself and an entire division of riot cops in order to save his friends. But if Sébastien Vanicek – who’s apparently been tapped up to make the next in the Evil Dead franchise – had brought the same rambunctiousness to his narrative that he does to his anti-authoritarian themes, Infested would have been phenomenal instead of merely rather good.

Available to stream on Shudder from Fri 26 Apr 2024