Judging from footage which runs under the end credits of this loose adaptation, the computer game It Came From the Desert was deliberately retro even in 1989 – riffing on the 1954 giant ant classic Them! This Finnish-made film version embraces the tone, and furthermore dumps in references to 1980s teen comedies and direct-to-video action schlock – the logo of the evil corporation which has been raising giant ants using alien DNA (with the curious omission of any mention of A-bomb tests) looks a lot like the Cannon Films logo tipped on its side, and the kids idolise the mulleted star of the ‘Eradicator’ movies (though, sadly, there’s no budget for a Chuck Norris cameo in the role).
Dirtbike champ Lukas (Alex Mills) may also be dirt-dumb but looks after his smarter, shyer brother Brian (Harry Lister Smith) – though it takes the champion’s arch-rival to point out that Lukas wouldn’t win all his races without the gimmicks mechanic Brian incorporates in his bike – and gives him horribly misleading life lessons about impressing the girl – inevitably named Lisa (Vanessa Grasse) – he has a crush on. Along with a bunch of other kids who don’t get to speak, probably because they’re Finns or Spaniards and this stretch of Nevada is played by Spain, the principles head out into the desert to party … and stumble across an abandoned underground facility overrun by giant mutant ants. There aren’t that many creatures – the horror of ants in Them!, The Naked Jungle and Phase IV is that they proliferate – but the design and effects are far superior to the average SyFy CGI critter flick. Written by director Marko Makilaakso, Hank Woon Jr (who has done SyFy/Asylum schlock like Atlantic Rim) and busy Trent Haaga (68 Kill, Cheap Thrills), it’s breezy and snarky, but doesn’t have the dramatic bite of, say, The Sand in the kids vs creatures field, since it disposes of all the extras in gruesome fashion (one babe is just there to sexydance and have formic acid sprayed in her face) and then features the survivors carrying on callously as they joke around between ant attacks.
Grasse, from Roboshark and Leatherface, is characterised as a worthy potential girlfriend because she’s well up on the Eradicator series but the real romance is between the brothers; these archetypal American movie characters are played by Brits on the grounds that air fare from Luton to Helsinki or Almeria is cheaper than from LA and the money can more usefully be spent on extra pixels for the ants. Kind of fun, but also kind of monotonous – which probably makes it one of the more successful, faithful adaptations of a computer game. The references to Them! are cool, but this also has a sneaking affection for Empire of the Ants … but the problem is that this is only a pastiche, without even a hint of real suspense, danger or desert eeriness. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’ve a sense that I’ll revisit any given 1950s big bug flick – even the ones by Bert I. Gordon – more often than I’ll return to It Came From the Desert.
NB: the copyright date is 2018 …