INFESTED (VERMINES) (Frane 2023) ***  1/2

Directed by Sébastien Vanicek


` Spiders have always freaked humans out as creepy crawlers.  One can imagine the horror of a spider killed and dozens of little baby spiders crawling out of the mother’s body.  And it is of no surprise that spider horror movies are almost a genre in itself with films like ARACHNOPHOBIA, EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS, TARANTULA, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER, most of them not very good.  From France, premiering at Cannes last year arrives INFESTED (previous title: VERMIN), arguably the best of the lot, and is as creepy as hell.

The film has a solid good build-up of suspense and thrills to the final climax.  It begins with the introduction of the deadly spider nested in the sands of a sweltering desert.  A group of Arabs hut for these creates and one shoots for jot having discovered a nest only to be killed by one jumping and stinging him on his face.  A few of these spiders (not tarantulas as they look different) are captured in small boxes and sold as exotic pets.  One comes into the hands of Kaleb (Theo Christine), a teen Arab living in a Paris suburb.  The visually striking buildings where the action is set are the Picasso arenas in Noisy-le-Grand, near Paris, designed by architect Manuel Núñez Yanowsky in the 80s.

Kaleb is about to turn 30 and has never been lonelier. He’s fighting with his sister over an inheritance and has cut ties with his best friend. Fascinated by exotic animals, he finds a venomous spider in a shop and brings it back to his apartment. It only takes a moment for the spider to escape and reproduce, infesting the whole building into a dreadful web trap. The only option for Kaleb and his friends is to find a way out and survive.

The script that is co-written by director Vanicek and Florent Bernard devotes a lot of time to the characters of Kaleb and his sister and friends (friends that argue, fight, and call each other names half the time).  The dialogue is crisp and ripe with swear words and slang, and the way one living marginally would speak thus creating an atmosphere of credibility as well as sympathy for those living at the edge of poverty.  The word putting can be heard dozens of times.  Putting is French for whore but it is more used s a curse word for ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’.  The janitor, an old Asian lady is bullied by the resident youth, but is rescued in one scene by Kaleb only to be scolded by her instead of her thanking him.  Such is life!  Will the band of so-called friends and family of Kaleb band together to find the new menace of their apartment building?  The spiders reproduce rapidly within the hour with offspring much larger than their parents.  The result is infestation.

The spiders are partly created by CGI with some of them actual real creatures.  Director Vanicek keeps his film smart, fun and scary, a sure-fire formula for a successful spider horror movie.

INFESTED is the first feature film for director Sébastien Vanicek, who had directed a few shorts before.  The film was nominated for two Cesars, for Best First Feature and Best Visual Effects.  Vanicek has pitched the movie to producer Harry Tordjman, who loved it and introduced him to Netflix.  They loved it as well and thought the movie deserved a theatre release before ending up on Netflix, which is a big deal in France as the minimum legal delay in 2023 between a theatre release.  INFESTED is available for streaming on Shudder Friday, April 26th with a special screening on the 24th at the TIFF Lightbox.



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