Roger Ebert Home

Infested

Spiders. Why’d it have to be spiders? Any of us who flinch at the sight of a spider can confirm the many legged arachnids are an easy source of terror. Most of us don’t like finding them on our windowsills, crawling on our walls, or making thread-y homes of their own in forgotten crevices. They are our foes as much as any unwelcome pest—even if they are helpful in keeping out other creepy crawlies. In Sébastien Vanicek’s nightmarish feature debut “Infested,” there are more spiders than you can count and spiders of unusual size that weave together a frightfully stellar monster movie that will make many viewers jump, squirm, and maybe even scream.

In Vanicek’s film, a young man named Kaleb (Théo Christine) collects a small menagerie of creatures and bugs in his room, much to the annoyance of his sister, Manon (Lisa Nyarko). While she’s busy refurbishing their old apartment to sell after the death of their mother, Kaleb’s future is less certain, and although many in his orbit think the worst of a hoodie-wearing young man with a side hustle of selling high-priced Nike shoes, he still tries to do what’s right for his neighbors. However, his passion for housing rare species by his bedside brings chaos into the apartment complex when a poisonous spider escapes and begins to lay its eggs throughout the building, leaving Kaleb, Manon, and their friends Mathys (Jérôme Niel), Jordy (Finnegan Oldfield) and Lila (Sofia Lesaffre) to fight for their lives. 

Our collective fear of spiders has manifested into its own horror subgenre. That includes the 1955 giant bug classic "Tarantula," deadly spider infestation in a smalltown thrillers like “Kingdom of the Spiders” and "Arachnophobia,” the early aughts Blockbuster favorite "Eight Legged Freaks" and the aptly named "Big Ass Spider!" that followed kaiju-sized monsters quite simply too big to contain. Like its predecessors, “Infestation” taps into our fear (rational and irrational) about poisonous bites, quick moving spider colonies that set up webs over our homes, spiders becoming too big or deadly to control, and the unpredictability of their behavior—as any kid tasked with killing a spider could attest. 

But “Infested” feels somehow more intense as the threat is not just poisonous spiders or spiders of unusual size—it’s that they are simultaneously growing exponentially almost every time you see them on screen, they attack in packs, and their bite is pretty lethal. They will take up residence in a host’s body then crawl out of their victim’s skin. They capture others in their webs or conquer them in their own homes. No place is safe, and once the infestation sets in, the apartment building where Kaleb lives is put on police lockdown, trapping everything and everyone inside. In addition to the arachnid horror movies of yesteryear, Vanicek channels the camaraderie of “Attack the Block,” another invasion thriller where friends band together to fight off aliens, and the confined apartment terror of David Cronenberg’s “Shivers,” where parasite unleash violent sexual chaos in a posh complex. 

Vanicek, who co-wrote the screenplay with Florent Bernard, gives some present-day nuance to what could have been just a one-note jump scare. Before the eight-legged melee begins, Kaleb’s community comes into focus—the different neighbors ranging from welcoming long timers who fondly remember his mom to the paranoid grouch who accuses him of selling drugs, and the strained relationships he shares with those closest to him. Later, we learn of how the neighborhood has been mostly abandoned by the cops and local government because of their lower income status, adding a little social critique to the mix. Once the spider dam breaks, it echoed the early days of COVID isolation when everyone was quarantined to their respective apartments and in some cases, it became every person for themselves. This phase does not last long, as the spiders are multiplying and growing with mutant speed and danger grows with every new propulsive track Vanicek layers into the movie. 

Of course, it had to be spiders. The little creatures are everywhere and nowhere we want to find them. They show how quickly we can jump into a state of fear, how we react to their intrusion (violence, tears, and so on), and how we take care of others who are also afraid of their presence. For all its skin-crawling, “ew!”-inducing moments, “Infested” delivers the roller coaster thrills of a well-made horror movie. Maybe you dare yourself to watch this movie about something you fear, brace for the twist of venomous spiders that get bigger and feel a sense of relief of surviving that adrenaline rush. Vanicek’s first feature is an impressive debut, driven by an energetic fright, turning a worn-down apartment complex into a catacomb of spider webs, moving shadows and blocked escapes. As wonderful as it felt to leave “Infested,” it’s not helped my fear of its eight-legged villains.

Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo is a critic, journalist, programmer, and curator based in New York City. She is the Senior Film Programmer at the Jacob Burns Film Center and a contributor to RogerEbert.com.

Now playing

Gasoline Rainbow
Back to Black
Humane
Wildcat
Terrestrial Verses

Film Credits

Infested movie poster

Infested (2024)

103 minutes

Latest blog posts

Comments

comments powered by Disqus