Released: 3 July 2015
Director: Benni Diez
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Budget: $2,500 (estimated)
Stars: Matt O’Leary, Jessica Cook, Clifton Collins Jr, Cecilia Pillado, Eve Slatner, and Lance Henriksen
Paul (O’Leary) and Julia (Cook) are catering for an intimate garden party for the well-to-do Mrs. Perch (Slatner) when the elaborate affair and her secluded manor suddenly come under attack by genetically mutated wasps who transform their prey into horrific man/wasp hybrids after stinging them.
If there are two genres of horror movies I always have time for it’s the body horror and horror/comedy sub-genres; I grew up watching classic films of this kind like John Carpenter’s The Thing (Carpenter, 1982), The Fly (Cronenberg, 1986), and Tremors (Underwood, 1990) so I was naturally intrigued when I came across Stung a while ago while browsing through Bloody Disgusting. Helmed by German director Benni Diez, Stung was a crowd funded independent horror/comedy that began life as the winning script for a screenwriting contest hosted by German production company Rat Pack. With such a low budget, the filmmakers had to be careful when casting the film but, with little more than a whim and just for the fun of it, opted to ask Lance Henriksen to join the production and, to their surprise, he agreed. Stung premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film festival, where it was a noted highlight, before receiving a wider theatrical release later that year snd earning mixed reviews that focused on the quality of the special effects or the film’s ridiculous concept and tone. Because of its limited release, Stung only made $75,000 in worldwide gross but it did win the Best International Film award at the 2015 Fantaspoa International Fantastic Film Festival.
Like any good horror film worth its salt, Stung sets itself in a largely familiar environment with a variety of normal, everyday characters; while the unfamiliar is a perfectly good setting for horror, I find some of the best takes place in places where you could conceivably, believably, and easily find yourself. Stung’s narrative primarily revolves around Julia, a caterer, and Paul, her assistant; Julia, having inherited the company from her father, is somewhat highly strung and has little time for Paul’s clumsy flirting and buffoonery. Paul, meanwhile, is clearly attracted to Julia and feels somewhat underappreciated for his efforts; he may play the fool at times but it’s mainly for levity and to help encourage Julia to relax since he puts a lot of work and effort into setting the venue up and tending the bar despite his tomfoolery.
Mrs. Perch’s shindig may be an intimate affair but all kinds of guests are in attendance, including her quirky son Sydney (Collins Jr), Larry the piano player (Daniele Rizzo), the cook and an old family friend of Julia’s, Flora (Pillado), and Mayor Caruthers (Henriksen). When Larry, Mrs. Perch, and Flora quickly become victims of the giant wasps, the remaining survivors are forced into Mrs. Perch’s vast estate where they attempt to barricade themselves within while being stalked by the giant wasps that were once their friends, family, and acquaintances. While hiding out in the estate’s fortified basement, the survivors get a bit of breathing time to interact and flesh out their characters a bit: we learn about Paul’s instinct towards saving lives from his time as a lifeguard and he begins to bond with Julia, who clearly exhibits a fondness and attraction for him but is only really driven to expressing those feelings because of the astonishing situation they find themselves in.
Sydney, meanwhile, already an eccentric and awkward character, descends into irrational fear and paranoia after witnessing his mother’s brutal transformation and reveals resentment towards his family. However, it’s thanks to him that the wasps have undergone their dramatic mutation since he mixed growth hormones with imported plant fertilize. Conversely, Mayor Caruthers is largely presented as the pragmatic voice of reason and a seasoned, rational presence; he compliments Paul and Julia for their ability and adaptability to the situation and approaches the horrific circumstances with a rational calm thanks to his experiences as an infantryman. He also exhibits a dry sense of humour and a gruff approach to both Sydney’s attitude and the growing intelligence of the wasp creatures.
While the film features a few additional cast members such as these and numerous guests, they all quickly fall victim to the wasps and Stung, first and foremost, revolves around Paul and Julia; they end up the sole survivors and we learn the most about them and watch their relationship evolve throughout the course of the film. Unexpectedly, Stung mixes things up a bit by featuring an articulate antagonist; when Sydney is stung, his transformation is radically different as he’s influenced by (if not out-right controlled by) the smaller wasp parasite that emerges from his shoulder that forces to do the bidding of his “mother”, the giant queen wasp that burst out of Mrs. Perch.
There are several themes at work in Stung amidst its ridiculous horror/comedy presence; the brutality and adaptability of nature, for one thing, and the lethargy of the capitalist elite (it’s notable that it’s the working class characters who are the most capable and forced to save the day), for another. Another prevalent sub-plot concerns Paul’s attraction to Julia, which is initially played for laughs and generally a vehicle to showcase Paul’s relatable awkwardness but also shows the differences between their social classes. Julia, while mostly not a complete bitch, is desperately trying to be professional and to make a good impression on Mrs. Perch and her high class guests in the hopes of increasing her business profile but she’s clearly Paul’s boss first and above him in the pecking order as he’s left doing all the heavy lifting and manual labour.
Of course, any good monster movie lives and dies on the strength of its creature design and Stung is certainly unique in its approach to this; whenever a character is stung by one of the giant, mutated wasps, a parasite soon hatches from within them, bursting out in truly gruesome fashion. The first time we see this happen, it is honestly an impressive and ghastly effect achieved though a clear combination of practical and special effects that is both shocking and disconcerting as the unfortunate victim is literally split in half and the resulting creature stalks further victims with the girl’s head still impaled on one of its arms! The second time, poor old Mrs. Perch literally explodes in a shower of gore and viscera!
After the initial emergence of the wasps, the film slows down and becomes a much more intense, atmospheric experience as the survivors hide in the estate’s basement and attempt to come up with a plan to escape. This gives the film time to breathe, allows for some commendable character development and moments (particularly from Paul and Mayor Caruthers, the two most appealing characters in the film), and builds a creepy sense of dread and atmosphere. There’s a sense that the wasps could break in at any moment and, indeed, several are already stalking through the mansion thanks to Mrs. Perch, creating an ominous ambience that only escalates when Sydney undergoes his unique transformation. The effect of seeing the wasp parasite emerge from his shoulder is as grisly as it is amusing and, alongside the wasp that emerges from the little dog, helps to keep the creature effects varied and interesting. It’s not just a swarm of mutated wasps or giant, man-sized creatures coming after the survivors, so they’re forced to constantly adapt and meet each new threat as it emerges while, thankfully, never descending into in-fighting or class warfare.
Thanks to the tension built up in the film’s slower, more atmospheric scenes, Stung’s creature effects and gore become so much more visceral when they are onscreen; sure, the CGI effects aren’t as polished as most big budget affairs but, for a low budget, independent horror film, they’re decent enough and the filmmakers more than make up for it with some impressive practical effects. The giant wasps are dripping in blood and guts and are, for most of the film, kept in darkness to both hide the effects and augment their horror. By the time Paul and Julia escape the estate, day has dawned and we get to see a fully CGI giant wasp in all its glory and it works, for the most part, since there’s a blending of practical and special effects, and the result is a creature that is both threatening but absurd in its appearance (which, to be fair, is a large part of the point and appeal of the film).
I really enjoyed Stung, to be honest. It was a wacky, over the top horror/comedy with a truly outlandish concept but I found it incredibly enjoyable. The creature effects and practical work is amazing considering the budget and the special effects and CGI are serviceable and forgivable enough for me (I’ve certainly seen worse, even in big budget movies!) Beyond the gore and the visceral brutality of the film’s unique creatures, I also found the leads very appealing; I totally bought Paul and Julia as believable, everyday people just trying to get by and being flawed, relatable characters and Lance Henricksen is always a pleasure to see (I really got the sense that he was just enjoying himself in the role and being on set). Not every film, certainly not every horror film, needs to be this deep, thought-provoking masterpiece; sometimes it’s perfectly fine and fun to just switch off and enjoy a good, old-fashioned creature feature and Stung certainly delivers in that regard, balancing its horror with an easy and believable humour and moments of surprising dread through clever pacing and filmmaking techniques. It’s obviously not going to be for everyone but, for fans of similar horror/comedies like Tremors and Slither (Gunn, 2006) there’s a lot to like here and it’s worth a watch for gore hounds and the absolutely outrageous ending that would make for an even more ludicrous concept were a follow-up ever produced!
Have you ever seen Stung? If so, what did you think of it? What did you think to the concept, execution, and special effects and how did you find the characters and more amusing elements? Are you a fan of old school creature feature horrors or do you prefer a different horror sub-genre; if so, what is it? Is there a creature feature concept you haven’t seen yet and would like to? What’s your favourite giant monster movie? No matter what you think, feel free to leave a comment down below and be sure to check back in for more horror content throughout the year!
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