Infested Is the Best Spider Horror Since Arachnophobia

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Infested Is the Best Spider Horror Since Arachnophobia

Arachnophobes beware: Infested is the best spider-centric horror movie since Arachnophobia. Sébastien Vaniček’s feature debut is a no-bullshit tour de force about eight-legged assassins that nearly perfects the subgenre. Imagine [REC] and Attack the Block but with spiders. Lots of spiders. Giant-ass spiders—but not to be confused with the comedic tone of Big Ass Spider! Kiah Roache-Turner’s Sting is the arachnid horror flick to watch this month if you’re looking for something more lighthearted, but Infested is a paralyzing nightmare caked in webbing that’ll have your skin crawling for weeks.

Kaleb (Théo Christine) is your average 30-year-old with an exotic personal zoo set up in his apartment’s private bedroom. Scorpions, amphibians and other creepy crawlies get a new roommate when Kaleb brings home a venomous spider that immediately punches through its cardboard Nike box habitat. Kaleb has no idea about the overseas spider’s species, but it becomes evident that it reproduces with haste and kills without remorse. Unfortunately, the infestation grows out of control, and Kaleb’s locked inside under quarantine regulations with his neighbors—along with a multiplying spider army of both count and size.

Vaniček’s debut for the ages hits all the hallmarks of exemplary horror cinema, which is shockingly accomplished for a first-time credit. Vaniček and co-writer Florent Bernard use low-income housing to sneak commentary underneath the nerve-shredding experience, especially since the film was once titled Vermin (a reference to how Kaleb’s community is treated). It’s very Attack the Block in its gentrification undertones and classist experiences, but visually ruthless and atmospherically ferocious like the claustrophobic [REC]. An overfilled grab bag of fears about spiders is exploited on repeat, from being hidden inside shoes to nesting within air vents—and that’s just the beginning. Infested is an arachnophobic smorgasbord of “absolutely ‘effing not” imagery, from body horror grossness to animal attack violence, as Vaniček reels us in the more his characters struggle to escape.

The arachnid designs are next-level freaky due to their icky-all-over realism—plenty of the nasty buggers are trained professionals, but the animated ones impress too. I’ll admit, I’m no hero when it comes to spider encounters in real life, and Infested is handily one of the more anxiety-inducing horror films I’ve endured in quite a while. Vaniček utilizes nothing more than primal instincts and female arachnid defense mechanisms to instigate white-knuckle sequences where spiders scramble in assault formation. Even Kaleb, whose amateur zookeeper mentality wants to protect these otherwise beautiful children of Mother Nature, conveys appropriate amounts of fear when the egg-laying body horror commences (BIGGEST OF NOPES). Between the clicky-clacky sound design (communication, perhaps), vile birthing sequences and the supremely suspenseful “flashlight tag” escape through stairwell corridors, Vaniček achieves punishing levels of immersion.

Christine and his surrounding cast do well to illustrate their complex’s dependencies on one another, which makes the loss of innocent lives hit harder. Jérôme Niel is any one of us as Mathys, the novice MMA fighter who is reduced to quivers and petrified gazes when darting past cocooned corpses. Sofia Lesaffre as Lila and Lisa Nyarko as Manon bring flavor to Kaleb’s life as close relationships he cares deeply about, also shining in some hold-your-breath encounters with spiders in close proximity. Then there’s Finnegan Oldfield as Jordy, Kaleb’s former bestie before a possibly petty split up—the film’s only struggle is their drama, which still comes together in an emotional climax once some gaps are filled in with context. The cast is all-around aces, and that’s without crediting all the bug-spraying victims who meet “earned” fates, along with a few poor souls whose eyes start secreting fluid before they start convulsing into believably toxic deaths.

Cinematographer Alexandre Jamin might well be a spider whisperer the way he can track critters from their most elegant long-legged emergences to speedily aggressive lunges. Jamin loves framing characters in the foreground while imminent threats loom in the background, dangling from threads, made evermore excruciating by the way shadows limit just enough visibility—but that’s hardly all. Infested shows an arachnid takeover of Picasso’s Arenas in Noisy-le-Grand like we’re on the front lines, face-to-face with hordes of soldier spiders, ducking into cover away from poisonous fangs and whizzing bullets alike. Vaniček brings a rousing action-forward mentality to Kaleb and his accompanying survivors’ journey—à la infected tenants sprinting forward in [REC]—without sacrificing the oh-hell-no hits like an Arachnophobia-esque bathroom sequence. It’s massively thrilling, doubly chilling and it’ll have you checking all the darkest corners of your apartment with extra keen eyes.

Infested is as good as scary spider flicks get; it’s an immediate challenger to Arachnophobia for the number one spot. Sébastien Vaniček is a powerhouse behind the camera, smuggling sharp politics into a limitlessly unsettling horror film that quadruples down on one of humankind’s most popular phobias. I hate how much I love this movie because while my psyche never wants to watch Infested again, it’s too crackerjack to ignore. Infested will haunt your waking hours, exterminate any bedtime relaxation, and have you flinching at the slightest tingle against your body. It’s the brand of horror movie that ruins you forever, which makes it an easy contender for Best of the Year honors.

Director: Sébastien Vaniček
Writers: Florent Bernard, Sébastien Vaniček
Starring: Théo Christine, Finnegan Oldfield, Jérôme Niel, Sofia Lesaffre, Lisa Nyarko
Release Date: April 26, 2024 (Shudder)

Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Critics Choice Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.

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