Not a big fan of creepy-crawly insects? Neither am I, but I’d still recommend Benni Diez’s seven-foot-wasp creature-feature, Stung. Adam Aresty’s script is something birthed from a schlocky 70s ooze, along the lines of Frogs or The Swarm, favoring a tone that highlights B-Movie comedy over serious, sinisterly dark scares. Don’t get me wrong, these wasps are nothing to f$ck with, but Stung stays focused on being a bloody, charming horror comedy that’s worth the…wait for it…BUZZ. Oh yea. Strap in folks. There’s plenty more wasp puns where that came from!
Diez’s film is your average backyard shindig turned insectoids-on-steroids nightmare, as we watch a cast of unlucky characters attempt to fight their way through a horde mutated wasps. Between Paul (Matt O’Leary) and Julia (Jessica Cook), the dweeby Sydney (Clifton Collins Jr.), his mother, and Mayor Caruthers (Lance Henriksen), no one understands where the wasps came from, but their genetic mutations suggest some kind of chemical tampering could be at play. None of that matters much to the hopeful survivors though, as they attempt to outsmart their vicious, aerial foes without becoming human kebabs.
There’s no denying that Stung has everything you’d want from such a zany, bulgy-eyed monster mash. Aresty’s script allows for numerous opportunities to use gushing practical gore, giant killer wasp creatures terrorize locals, (some) enjoyable characters drop quippy lines, and you can expect plenty of deaths via gigantic stingers that are bigger than a Bowie knife. Diez identifies all the right pieces of this gruesome puzzle, but it’s impossible to ignore how unbalanced the film feels at times. When the wasps attack, there’s plenty of comedic horror goodies that are worth braving a deadly swarm for, but an overly-long introduction and duller segments of hiding away in locked rooms weigh on our patience. Some of the jokes and puns fall rather flat in the face of forced B-Movie antics, but when fleshy heads split open to reveal emerging wasp bodies, we’re given the proper distraction that Stung so desperately needs – it just becomes bothersome when these gleefully enraged moments vanish for what seems like hours upon hours.
Then again, when Stung hits its full get-stung-and-die stride, Diez’s delivery and Aresty’s tone are aces for what they deliver. The initial wasp attack is a flurry of squashed insects and split-open carcasses, highlighted by a woman’s body being torn apart chest-burster style by an emerging wasp monster, and despite a mix of CGI and practical props, the wasps remain lifelike in their mixed appearances. The wasp monsters are always more likable in their “realistic,” puppet forms, but a few animated kill sequences (an expected eye-stab) still make use of the horror genre’s violent brand of entertainment. Sterno-bombs, wasp people, halved cougars, piercing stingers, and giant flaming insects who divebomb like psychotic kamikaze pilots show that Diez understands exactly how to capitalize on such an inherently cheese-tastic gimmick when given free reign.
But, much like the film’s uneven pacing, Stung‘s cast is filled with a mix of proper genre goofiness and unnecessarily drawn-out awkwardness that feels a bit egotistical in practice. For example, Matt O’Leary’s heroic catering employee dances a very fine line between nerdily lovable and forcibly over-animated in the film’s first half, and it’s not until the latter portion that he’s able to find a more grounded likability (fighting monster wasps does that to a man). Jessica Cook plays his female crush and stern boss with a little more balance and restraint, getting caught in the good-girl arc that every horror flick needs, but she’s the biggest star once all the sticky wasp guts are washed away come the film’s finale.
Looking any farther than Diez’s head-butting lead characters will uncover nothing but a few stand-out moments from actors who we’ve seen attack similar roles with much more energy. Any genre fan knows Lance Henriksen’s name, but he’s reduced to playing a drunken senior whose pulse reflects a passed-out party goer, while Clifton Collins Jr. struggles to find that same energy while slinking around the garden as a shy hunchback. O’Leary and Cook are left to carry the burden of Stung completely on their own, and they’re luckily able to do so through bouts of apocalyptic sexual tension, but there’s more wanted from veteran performers who have played this game on a much higher level in previous roles.
If you’re walking into Stung after watching its theatrical trailer, you already know what you’re signing up for and Diez delivers exactly that – but not much else. Movies like Deathgasm, Turbo Kid, Zombeavers, and a few other genre nutjobs go all-in on their respective selling points, and their continued ability to push established boundaries mounts more and more entertainment as the film charges on. Diez’s film is not one of these. Stung isn’t exactly a one-note watch, as there are stretches that’ll strike a simultaneous bout of laughter/fearsome cringe, but slower segments of tonally misconstrued boredom are just too hard to ignore. Diez doesn’t have the next midnight sensation on his hands, but that’s quite alright, because there’s still enough environmental terror worth a hearty watch for you and your best wasp-hating buds.