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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Swarmed (2005)

My notes on Swarmed (2005).‘We have to find this guy. He’s our only link to the mutated wasps.’

The industrious bee gets a bad press in terror-by-bug movies like The Swarm, The Bees and The Savage Bees, which is odd since they generally have a better public image than picnic-spoiling wasps. This ordinary but acceptable shot-in-Canada-for-the-SciFi-Channel TV movie redresses a balance by siccing mutated killer wasps on a small town whose self-serving officials are unwilling to listen to vespiary experts and shut-down the nationally televised barbeque cook-offs.

Microscope-peering boffin Kent Horvath (Michael Shanks) discovers his newly-developed insecticide has only a seventy-five per-cent fatality rate, with surviving bugs becoming super-toxic and aggressive (‘Oh my God, the venom is now extremely powerful! We have created mutated wasps by applying the genetically-enhanced pesticide!’). A janitor gets stung to death and a wasp on his corpse kills the local coroner – distorted honey-gold images convey yellowjacket POV as actors swipe at the camera and CGI blots swarm over them before mild scabby make-up reveals their allergic reaction. Horvath’s wasp-hating exterminator pal Q (Richard Chevolleau) ‘borrows’ the experimental pesticide (‘it’s a new formula, really a little strong … we haven’t worked out all the bugs yet.’) and unwittingly creates a whole cloud of deadly insects, which take out the Mayor (Christopher Bondy) and the Sheriff (Bill Lake) while Kent and lady entomologist Cristina Brown (Carol Alt) rush around trying to warn folks (‘if the swarm comes here, it’s going to be really really bad’). Unethical, cowboy-suited barbeque sauce tycoon Phineas Washburn (Tim Thomerson) tries to suppress the bad news, while the Mayor’s once-devoted, now-demented assistant Ellie (Ellen Dubin) wants to blast the monsters one by one with a shotgun. Ellie comically goes after the buzzing bastard who stung her boss, before Washburn – whose role models include Dick Miller in Piranha and Murray Hamilton in Jaws — unethically knocks her out to ensure the vital barbeque cook-off goes ahead as planned so his company’s share price won’t plummet.

Naturally, the climax finds wasps swarming over that cook-off, and the usual dozens of swatting SciFi extras running and screaming in panic. The enjoyably verminous Washburn hides in an overturned wheelie-bin and a barrel of water, but since he’s the human villain of the film – rather than the whitecoated idiots whose fault the crisis is, who get to be heroes with flamethrowers and aerosols — the wasps make an extra effort to get him by crawling down the hosepipe he’s breathing through. In an odd, nasty aside a crass news cameraman hides safely in a phone booth while taping his presenter (Maria Brooks) being stung to death in her car (‘you’re fired, Jimmy, you’re fired’). Unusually, he isn’t punished and we assume he makes a fortune selling the snuff footage. The good guys lure the swarm into a garage by driving a truckload of exposed raw burgers through town, and then blowing the garage up. Q’s red-headed slacker pal (Jonathan Malen) gets the queen with a portable vacuum-cleaner — but, of course, the final frames show she has survived and is laying eggs. It’s odd that all SciFi Channel monster movies have sequel hooks, since they generally don’t bother to make sequels. The cast do what they can with the comic balloon dialogue, and Alt at least makes the wikipedia-of-wasps infodumps mildly engaging: it’s her job to insist that real wasps are respectable members of the insect community and not monsters – just before the rest of the film unleashes monster wasps. Directed by Paul Ziller (Snakehead Terror, Beyond Loch Ness, Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon); scripted by Miguel Tejada-Flores (Revenge of the Nerds, Screamers, Darkness, Beyond Re-Animator).

Discussion

One thought on “Film review – Swarmed (2005)

  1. Anne Billson This sounds like a movie for Adam.

    Steve Bray “It’s odd that all SciFi Channel monster movies have sequel hooks, since they generally don’t bother to make sequels.”
    Possibly they’re waiting for one to be extra-popular?Or they’re afraid of running out of monster ideas? I also wonder if they’re simply following the established genre conventions (such as; always leave room for a sequel) without actually thinking about any of them too deeply?

    Valerie Laws great dialogue quotes Kim. Also a great and refreshingly honest quote from you for the DVD cover -‘ ‘ordinary but acceptable’, Kim Newman.’ Maybe the sequel hooks are also a little sting in the tail of fear, like, this could actually happen folks, and it’s already started…

    Grace Ker Is it a kiind of mutant insects film in the tradition of Arachnophibia? I love those… though Arachnophobia is really rather a terrible example, so hard to make this kind of films of some kind of artistic value…

    Valerie Laws though Arachnophobia is played for laughs throughout, whereas Tarantula is sometimes funny by mistake.

    Grace Ker Oh i know; it was very naughty of my friends as they suggested that I watched this when we were all still very little at school, they said that it would help me get rid of my arachnophobia!! What a fool I was huh

    Kim Newman There’s one arty mutant insect film – Phase IV (ants) – and a lot of assorted bug pictures I quite like (Kingdom of the Spiders, etc).

    Kim Newman Arachnophobia was the ‘surprise film’ at the London Film Festival one year – a significant proportion of the audience got up and left as soon as the title came on. I like the movie, but it has an obvious problem – if you don’t have arachnophobia, it’s not scary, but if you do, then there’s no way you’d pay to see it.

    Grace Ker oh man… I watched that on VHS at school, don’t quite remember the certificate of it but seem to remember not being old enough to actually watch the thing! Phase IV you said? Kingdom of the Spiders? are you sure Kim? These title sound like they were all played for laughs as your friend Valerie said of Arachnophobia…

    Shaun Anderson I agree about Arachnophobia, and Phase IV is interesting, though it remains semi-obscure – might have something to do with it being terribly dull. Any views on Empire of the Ants?

    Kim Newman Empire of the Ants is sort of a hoot, though not as funny as The Giant Spider Invasion. And the ’70s also turned out Bug, The Hellstrom Chronicle (a bizarrely alarmist documentary about how insects were going to eat us all), Kiss of the Tarantula, Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo, Panic at Lakewood Manor (more ants), The Savage Bees, The Swarm (compulsively silly) and Frogs (which is about all sorts of creepy-crawlies). On reflection, The Naked Jungle is the coolest ant movie.

    Shaun Anderson Ray Milland is great in Frogs, he looks as perplexed as most audiences would have been at the end of it. I seem to remember Phase IV being very talky, with lots of mumbo-jumbo sci-fi dialogue.

    Shaun Anderson I shall have to track those two down – he’s also great as a moody veteran cop on the trail of a killer in a little seen Italian giallo called The Pyjama Girl Case.

    Posted by kimnewman | April 7, 2020, 10:53 am

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