Movies · Reviews

‘Infested’ Might Just Be the New Queen of Spider Horror Cinema

Spiders… why’d it have to be spiders?
By  · Published on April 23rd, 2024

It was just one week ago that we covered a new spider horror movie called Sting, and while it fumbles its tone and characters, the film still delivers some creepy spider antics. Well, it turns out that was just the appetizer as another filmed has crawled and skittered its way into the subgenre, but Infested isn’t trying to make you laugh or get you smiling. No, Sébastien Vanicek‘s Infested wants to remind you why you were scared of spiders as a kid — and why you should still be terrified of them even as an adult.

Kaleb (Théo Christine) and his older sister Manon (Lisa Nyarko) lost their mother some time ago, and they’re each still grieving in their own ways. While she throws herself into work, he focuses on selling fancy sneakers and enjoying his growing collection of bugs, amphibians, and whatever else he can fit into his tower of terrariums. His latest acquisition is a plum-sized spider, and while an opening sequence shows viewers just how dangerous and deadly this particular spider can be, it’s a prologue that Kaleb isn’t privy to. We meet his friends and neighbors living in the same old apartment complex, but it’s not long before socializing gives way to survival as not only has Kaleb’s spider escaped — but it’s also multiplied in extraordinarily upsetting ways.

Infested has some amusing beats, but make no mistake, Vanicek’s feature debut isn’t here to hold your hand and goose you along with laughs. Unlike Sting or the subgenre’s pinnacle, Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia (1990), you won’t find the comfort of a “horror/comedy” label here. Instead, the film aims to hold you close as spiders of varying sizes — we’re talking peas to watermelons, and they all move a hell of a lot faster than you — burst onto the screen, out of the shadows, and into your waking nightmares.

Human characters are often underrated when it comes to genre efforts and animal attack features in particular as filmmakers and viewer alike are most interested in the carnage. Vanicek and co-writer Florent Bernard choose the road less taken, though, and offer up an ensemble we come to care about which makes upcoming demises hit all the harder. Kaleb and Manon are the obvious core here, but friends like the spunky Mathys (Jérôme Niel) and loyal Jordy (Finnegan Oldfield) add to the charismatic and endearing mix as a group of young people nearly pushed to the sides of proper society.

The film’s French title, Vermin, speaks more directly to that light weaving of social commentary that runs through Infested. If it reminds of movies like Attack the Block (2011) or even the action-centric Athena (2022), well, that’s by design as the inevitable arrival of law enforcement confirms our protagonists are seen as lesser than and ultimately disposable. The film doesn’t give the idea much room to run, but there’s enough to have viewers filling in the blanks and enjoying some #acab inspired spider carnage in the third act.

Ultimately, though, while the character work and thematic commentaries are nice touches, it’s those very spider shenanigans that viewers will be looking for here, and they will not be disappointed. Infested imagines every nightmare scenario you might have involving spiders and that turns that web-covered dial all the way to eleven. The creepy crawlies hit the screen as both live performers and special effects (both practical and CG), and with barely an exception, they all serve to terrify whether moving ever so slowly towards warm flesh or skittering at lightning speed towards the camera.

The spiders are inherently unsettling just as they are — the film loves detailing hairy legs methodically stepping out from shadows, vents, and holes in the wall — but Vanicek and cinematographer Alexandre Jamin craft some set pieces for the ages that ramp up the nerve-jangling tension to near-unbearable degrees. One sequence involving a long hallway illuminated only by overhead lights on a timer is guaranteed to have even slightly arachnophobic viewers frozen in place. Another scene with our survivors racing up a stairwell with spiders in pursuit is equally scream-worthy, and that’s just two sequences among many, all building to an action-heavy finale that still keeps the eight-legged nightmares front and center.

Arachnophobia has sat alone at the top of the spider horror subgenre for decades, and it’s been untouchable in its creepy, fun perfection. Marshall and friends aimed for the ideal balance between Amblin’s family entertainment and pure nightmare fuel, and they succeeded. Infested is far less interested in the former and instead focuses its energies on the latter, and the results speak for themselves once that character-centric first act ends. From that point forward, every dark corner, every surface whether behind, above, or beside you, every frame, holds a spider (or fifty) waiting to get up close and personal. That doesn’t make it better than Arachnophobia, but it means the two films are arguably perched together atop the subgenre — just biding their time until they drop from the ceiling onto your face.

Most spider horror films lean heavily into exaggerating the size of their arachnids for immediate effect, and Infested is no different despite keeping most of its beasties slightly more grounded. That’s part of why it works so damn well — you see real spiders on the screen, and as the sweaty nightmare unfolds you can’t help but believe all of them are real. And in your house. And waiting for you to turn off the lights. Just Google “Australian spiders” for confirmation that these motherfuckers can grow bigger than you’re expecting, and then press play on Infested. Your horror-loving heart will thank me later.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.