‘Infested’ Review: This Arachnid Infestation Will ‘Grow’ On You


Sebastien Vanicek’s feature debut may not be the right place for arachnophobes to give exposure therapy a shot. The eight-legged critters in Infested don’t just grow in size but trap you in that petrifying feeling of something crawling all over you. When it comes to creature horrors with the primary objective of tapping into your primal fear, there’s something about make-believe creatures, however deadly or gross, that just doesn’t cut it. Even the Nicolas Cage-starrer Arcadian, which doesn’t leave a lot to be desired on the nightmarish monsters front, doesn’t quite give you that tingle on the back of your neck. For that specific feeling that gives you an itch that doesn’t go away no matter how much you scratch, the first order of business is to pick a real creature that’s basically all around us. 

The most immediately recognizable evidence of Vanicek’s success is him picking spiders for this claustrophobic tale of an infestation. And the second creative choice that elevates Infested‘s status to that of the best creature horror about arachnids is the fact that it’s never campy. So while “Arachnophobia” and “Tarantula” undeniably tickled that spot in your brain that desires some ghoulish fun, Infested is quite serious in its tone. Unless you’re too terrified by the rapidly multiplying and enlarging critters in that unfortunate building in Paris to even think about anything else, the ghastly deaths of the poor residents are bound to weigh you down. Vanicek and Florent Bernard’s writing doesn’t just achieve this strikingly layered manifestation of misery by making the victims likable. We know how many horror films that came before have tried and failed to evoke a true sense of empathy for their unlucky characters. Infested was too impeccably thought-out to limit this game to the likeability of its characters and challenged itself to more emotional world-building. It leaves you wretched over the lives lost by making these people need each other. So, you truly realize the bigger implications of these deaths. 

The few times a spider’s in a clear shot or the main focus of a scene, it only redirects your senses to be stuck imagining how many more are around the corner and how many vicious babies are going to come out of this one. The skin-crawling discomfort is at its peak when these babies come out to play. But there’s nothing like the good old, tried-and-tested distortion of a human body by critters to put your stomach in knots. A man holding his dead kin and puffing away on the stairs is the kind of thing that anchors you to the bigger picture when fright fills you up to the brim. But when it’s a heart-stopping race to cross a corridor sheeted in webs and thousands of hostile spiders that takes over your senses, you can hardly be expected to think about anything else. The less-than-realistic CGI spider near the end marks the film’s only instance of giving in to the anxiety of not being bold enough. Vanicek probably should’ve avoided this tricky area altogether and stuck to the distant, fragmented shots Infested otherwise benefits from. The only reason this doesn’t alter the fear you’ve already come to feel is because the stakes have already shifted. There’s a lot of unresolved grief in Kaleb. And the ache of losing his mom that makes him such a catty brother to Manon tells you that a truce is long overdue. But resolutions don’t come easy to Kaleb, who’s let a childhood miscommunication keep him from fixing things with his best friend. 

Alexandre Jamin’s statement choices for the lighting that’s supposed to guide our perspective of the set are another aspect that humanizes the story of a building taken over by deadly spiders. Generally a faithful tool to hike up the feeling of dread, it was a surprising choice by Jamin to prioritize outlining the people instead of the creatures with his cinematography. But this idea of using the blues and yellows to stay true to the vibes you’d associate with Kaleb and his friends takes nothing away from the fear the complicated antagonists of Infested are supposed to cripple you with. This is as much a story of these very real people, rejected by the snobbish atmosphere of Paris and crammed into a dingy building. Kaleb’s a surprisingly effective protagonist who’s so achingly authentic in the expressions of his emotions that you kind of forgive him for causing this mess. 

Kaleb felt a beautiful little spider was just what he needed to add to his fascinating collection of critters and amphibians. He wildly miscalculates just how much horror this one little bug can unleash on his friends and neighbors. Kaleb’s warmth for these people is kind of unprecedented. There’s an undeniable contrast between who he can’t help being and who he chooses to be. The socioeconomic boundaries posed by France’s discriminatory politics have made having a regular career a pipe dream for people like Kaleb. Out of his humble apartment under his sister Manon’s repair work, Kaleb sells counterfeit Snickers while his close friend Mathys is trying to make a quick buck with stolen bikes. You can’t deny that Kaleb helping out the old custodian and being respectful to elders aren’t the kind of things you’d readily associate with him. You’re more likely to feel a toned-down version of his neighbor Gilles’ cynicism for him. But Infested‘s uncharacteristically sincere attention to the emotional stakes means you get a plethora of layered characters and their thorny yet wholesome dynamics.

Infested‘s decidedly ACAB sentiments come to you in both direct and anecdotal forms. The ongoing crisis in the building not even making the news tells you how isolated these people really are. Dread is all there is to feel, knowing the residents are locked in by the cops, who care much more about containing the infestation than the countless casualties. Sure, there are survivors here. That shouldn’t be news, given that character-building would’ve been ineffective without some unlikely heroics. But even though you’ve arrived here expecting some gnarly deaths, you aren’t immune to feeling bad for these people. There’s this old guy who’s used up all his cups to trap as many spiders as he can and is just awaiting his death. And even though you’ve only seen him once before, you feel his heartbreaking panic in the face of such an unexpected terror. 

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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjee
In cinema, Lopamudra finds answers to some fundamental questions of life. And since jotting things down always makes overthinking more fun, writing is her way to give this madness a meaning.

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