Sitting through direct-to-DVD or Sci-Fi Channel movies can be a real chore, but what makes the task worthwhile are those rare occasions when you find a real sleeper. Sometimes it’s something so junky that it makes you crack up incessantly (SHARK ATTACK 3), and occasionally you discover one truly well-made and exciting with moments of wit (FRANKENFISH). INFESTATION, recently released on DVD, is one of those nice surprises, the good kind.
It picks up at the beginning of Earth’s invasion by giant insects that knock everyone out and wrap them in cocoons. In a nice change of pace, the creatures’ origin is never explained and is thankfully not the result of an evil government conspiracy.
Cooper (FANBOYS’ Chris Marquette), a likable slacker, is the first to awaken, and joins up with a handful of survivors: father-and-son Albert (Wesley Thompson) and Hugo (E. Quincy Sloan), cute Sara (Brooke Nevin), and weather girl Cindy (Kinsey Packard). Discovering the big bugs are attracted to sound, the group makes its way on foot to the house of Cooper’s ex-military father Ethan (Ray Wise, recently excellent as the Devil on REAPER), who has a bomb shelter filled with supplies.
The group doesn’t reach Ethan’s intact, however. Some are killed, some are transformed into creepy person/bug hybrids (nice work by the visual effects department), and one is captured by the bugs and taken to their nest. The remaining survivors decide to head toward the nest to rescue their friend and destroy the insects.
Wise is great (I love the way he exclaims, “Candy!”, when he spies a police station armory) and having a tremendous amount of fun, maybe even as much fun as the audience is. INFESTATION is not a comedy per se, but there are plenty of funny bits that don’t hurt the integrity of the scares, but rather reinforce the film’s more serious moments. Director Kyle Rankin’s screenplay gives the characters more depth than usual, and there’s a real weight to the relationship between Marquette and Wise that raises the stakes. It helps that the CGI and practical effects are extremely well done for a film of this budget level, which makes the creatures genuinely scary foes (if, admittedly, lacking in personality).
Rankin, best known for his PROJECT GREENLIGHT film THE BATTLE OF SHAKER HEIGHTS, may be an exploitation filmmaker to keep an eye on. He has a nice sense of pacing, isn’t afraid to use gore and nudity without going overboard, and adds welcome humor to this creature feature. He also uses Ray Wise in his features, which is always a smart choice. Also with Linda Park (STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE), Todd Jensen, Diane Gaeta, Jim Cody Williams, and Deborah Geffner. Steven Gutheinz’s nice score sounds like an homage to Danny Elfman.