The second deadly spider movie in as many months (following Infested) scuttles onto our screens. Kiah Roache-Turner (of the Mad Max meets Walking Dead franchise Wyrmwood) has made the interesting choice of setting this largely Australian production in the US. It’s a wise one considering the idea of a killer arachnid is a terrifying one when lose in a New York apartment block, whereas in Australia it would just be a Tuesday. As such it’s likely this will play better in countries where checking the loo seat in case something venomous has crawled up isn’t a quotidian experience. There are some solid old-school B-movie thrills to be had, but it’s less successful in weaving a family drama into its web.

Charlotte (Alyla Browne; also to be seen in cinemas as the young Furiosa) is a precocious 12-year-old who lives in a run-down apartment block with her mother Heather (Penelope Mitchell), step-father Ethan (Ryan Corr), and her baby brother. Left to her own devices she comes across a spider whom she captures, keeps in a jar, and christens Sting. Unbeknown to her, Charlotte’s new pet is actually an alien which grows rapidly larger after every feed. Before long it’s gone rom eating bugs, to pet parrots, to human beings.

Sting is a real throwback creature feature, and for a while it works really well. There’s a sweet spot it hits when the titular spider is just large enough to bring down its first human victim, before it gets too big and becomes so outlandish it loses some of its uncanny, skittering movement. At such moments, the mix of CGI and practical effects is nicely judged, and it feels like it’s hitting its stride.

What Roache-Turner also does well is give a fine idea of the building’s geography through introducing Charlotte as a character. The independent girl is frequently wandering through the very ducts that Sting will use later. It, along with Charlotte being the inspiration for a web-slinging superhero comic strip drawn by Ethan – also sets up a fascinating idea of Charlotte and Sting being somehow sympatico. This is largely jettisoned though, and it largely becomes a half-baked tale of reconciliation between Ethan and Charlotte, with the arachnid carnage as a catalyst.

Therein lies the man issue. The thematic aspects become as unwieldy as the creature itself. There is certainly room for the reunification of a family to run parallel, but it doesn’t have the necessary character development. Beyond Charlotte, and the put-upon Ethan, there are several characters set up purely to be comic relief, victims, or both. Elderly sisters, dementia sufferer Helga and aggressively Teutonic Gunter (Noni Hazlehurst and Robyn Nevin) are played as cartoonish, yet downstairs neighbour Maria (Silvia Colloca) is an alcoholic driven to drink by the implied tragic death of her children. As a character, she’s simply mean-spirited. Again, it’s fine to play what is essentially an eight-legged slasher film for nastiness, but it’s a jarring clash. It’s clear Maria’s situation is a harrowing mirror to Ethan’s, but it’s badly handled.

Sting is decent fun while it lasts, but it is largely forgettable and too frequently puts you in mind of better movies. There are a lot of camera angles straight out of Evil Dead, and an atmosphere that strongly echoes Alien, for example. Kiah Roache-Turner has raided the classic genre costume chest before in the Wyrmwood movies, but his cranked-up, bonkers, zombie road movies have their own identity and are extremely memorable. Despite decent central performances, particularly from the talented Alyla Browne, it never reaches its early promise.

In cinemas nationwide from Fri 31 May 2024