Film Review: ‘Stung’

stung
Courtesy of IFC Midnight

Garden-partying WASPs get attacked by an aggressive swarm of mutant actual wasps in this English-language German horror-comedy.

A none-too-serious creature feature, “Stung” finds attendees at a garden party under siege by mutant wasps that keep getting bigger — from as-found-in-nature to small-aircraft-sized — as the hectic action proceeds. This first feature for Benni Diez and scenarist Adam Aresty is an English-language German production aimed squarely at genre fans, who should enjoy its slick energy on a modest budget. The more original ideas and sensibility that might’ve made it something beyond a decent formulaic time-filler are lacking here — although with the narrative door left wide open for a sequel, such creative risks could be taken next time. Touring the fest circuit since a Tribeca bow in April, it opened on one Vermont screen simultaneous with VOD/iTunes launch on July 3, with a few theaters added since. Primary exposure here and abroad, however, will be as a viable home-format item.

Heading out to a rare high-profile gig, Julia (Jessica Cook) is anxious about the survival of her catering biz, and as a result about the performance reliability of slackerish bartender/assistant Paul (Matt O’Leary). He, meanwhile, laments that she keeps their relationship strictly professional, ignoring his rather obvious crush. They’re en route to a country estate where wealthy widow Mrs. Perch (Eve Slatner) and her weird, nerdy son Sydney (Clifton Collins Jr.) preside over an annual gathering of mostly elderly, similarly wealthy local WASPs including dapper, cynical Mayor Caruthers (Lance Henriksen).

The tame festivities, however, are soon unpleasantly enlivened by an invasion of real wasps — an aggressive swarm that rises from the ground (pharmaceutical-empire heir Sydney later admits messing with the grounds’ chemical fertilizer) to attack the guests. Worse, those stung become instant incubators for truly party-sized insect offspring whose birth they do not survive. Only the previously named humans (plus a housekeeper played by Cecilia Pillado) make it inside the mansion to temporary safety. But their numbers dwindle further as the SUV-sized bugs smash their way in, turning the whole joint into a wrecked, sticky nest while our protagonists cower in the cellar.

Paul discovers his inner action hero (as does, eventually, Julia), rising to a series of challenges, including confrontations with a monstrous queen wasp lurking outside. There’s plenty of gooey insectivorous f/x, yet despite game contributions from all involved, nothing else in “Stung” goes quite far enough. Its sense of humor (including numerous genre in-jokes) is genial without being particularly witty or gut-busting, the action brisk if never very surprising, performances agreeable within routine character-writing bounds. In a movie that should have gone for funnier or scarier (ideally both), there’s way too much eventual emphasis on the leads’ uninspired evolving romance.

Nonetheless, the pic reps a solid calling card for all behind-the-camera personnel, with sharp tech and design contributions. If the content is ultimately derivative and unmemorable, the confident packaging suggests vfx veteran Diez (directing his first feature after several shorts) is ready for bigger and better things.

Film Review: 'Stung'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, July 13, 2015. Running time: 87 MIN.

Production

(Germany) An IFC Midnight (in U.S.) release of a Rat Pack Filmproduktion and XYZ Films production in co-production with Berghauswobke Film. Produced by Christian Becker, Benjamin Munz. Executive producers, Nate Bolotin, Aram Terzakian, Nick Spicer, Todd Brown. Co-producer, Thomas Wobke.

Crew

Directed by Benni Diez. Screenplay, Adam Aresty. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Stephan Burchardt; editor, Dominik Kattwinkel; music, David Menke, Antonio Gambale; production designer, Jorg Mohring; costume designer, Virginie Henzen; sound, Bertin Molz, Dominik Leube; sound designer, Tilman Hahn; creature effects, Design of Illusion; visual effects, Peter Hacker, Sebastian Nozon; stunt coordinator, Ferdinand Fischer.

With

Matt O’Leary, Jessica Cook, Clifton Collins Jr., Lance Henriksen, Cecilia Pillado, Daniele Rizzo, Florentine Lahme, Eve Slatner. (English dialogue)
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