The Big Monster Spider in Sting Deserved Better

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The Big Monster Spider in Sting Deserved Better

Kiah Roache-Turner’s Sting is the more forgiving and approachable experience of the two arachnid horror flicks releasing this April. If you’ve seen Roache-Turner’s Wyrmwood zombie B-movies or his offbeat “cyberdemon” oddball Nekrotronic, you’re probably not surprised to find his fanged-up screenplay plays into comedic set-ups. Sting has more in common with Big Ass Spider! or Eight Legged Freaks than anything else, trying to be a family drama that puts a smile on your face despite the dangerously giant spider feasting on victims. Roache-Turner has navigated these jokey-yet-vicious waters before, and unfortunately, with steadier results. Sting is sweet, silly and savage in sectioned bursts, but fails to pull everything into an intricately woven web of creepy-crawly terrors.

During an unprecedented winter ice storm in a Brooklyn apartment complex, little Charlotte (Alyla Browne) befriends an alien spider-creature. She names it “Sting,” offering a mason jar habitat and a steady diet of New York City roaches. Following creature feature rules, where something must go wrong, Sting begins to grow at a rapid pace. As the bugger’s size doubles, quadruples and so on, so does its appetite—from roaches to caged parrots and finally to tenants.

Sting is an elementary formula when it comes to hunt-and-kill action, but that’s not until the film’s third act. We spend more time navigating Charlotte’s home life, where stepfather Ethan (Ryan Corr) wrestles with compassionate co-parenting, touchy nerves and his multiple jobs. Charlotte’s mother, Heather (Penelope Mitchell), lays an unstable foundation by not confessing her ex-husband’s local relocation because it’d ruin the daughter who’s convinced he’s unable to visit. Roache-Turner uses the fragile step-parent ecosystem as a catalyst for the mayhem that transpires, as blatantly as Charlotte creating a comic character named Fang Girl that Ethan sells to a publisher—seen via illustration riding a beefed-up spider—to parallel Charlotte’s extreme attachment to Sting. It’s all melodramatically on the nose and not always delivered with intended impact (including Ethan’s perceived favoritism of Charlotte’s infant brother Liam), stealing focus away from Sting’s freakish embiggening.

As for the building’s other residents, they’re not much beyond caricatures all designed with broad and translucent strokes. You can see right through their personalities, from the grieving drunkard widow Maria (Silvia Colloca) to the awkwardly neurodivergent biology student Erik (Danny Kim). Jermaine Fowler appears as a second-generation exterminator—the only supporting character who feels alive—who Aunt Gunter (Robyn Nevin) underpays as a frugal and callous landlord. They’re all one-dimensional props, and their treatments only highlight a strange question for a horror film releasing in the year 2024: Why are all the minority characters wafer-thin snacks for Sting? 

I’m left pondering how the film wants us to read its commentary about outsiders and people of color being reduced to stereotypes (e.g. Maria’s chihuahua and alcohol-filled pitcher). Roache-Turner’s play on Brooklyn’s diverse melting pot of inhabitants earns raised eyebrows as the film’s white protagonists play Superdads and saviors with fully developed arcs. It’s an oddly calibrated brand of MADtv representation that cheapens Sting’s feeding frenzies. The ’90s are alive, but not in a good way.

As for Sting’s fully-grown enormity, the magicians at Wētā Workshop create a workable monster that resembles a Black Widow the size of a Bernese Mountain Dog (Wētā’s participation is extra appropriate when you find out Sting is named after a Lord of the Rings reference). The practical effects are solid, although not in an absolute hard-pass way for borderline arachnophobes. I’ve covered my eyes at the sight of surprise tarantulas in movies like Rupture, but never found myself unable to handle Sting’s pointy legs or bulbous backside. Roache-Turner might lay references to Alien, Predator and other stalker-prey thrillers on real thick toward the end, but he executes the actual horror elements with enough excitement. Sting resembles the spiders in Jumanji based purely on mobility and appearance, although its inflicted violence is far nastier than the family-friendly comparison. Kudos to the head-splattering deaths, soul-sucked victim husks and proper skin-crawly-ness that comes along with any eight-legger or insect variation finding human orifices to crawl into.

The problem is, Sting is only that rad creature feature for one-third of the duration. Roache-Turner struggles to unite Hallmark family dramatics with Sting’s venomous attacks, never establishing the best of either world. It doesn’t help that the performances can come off as wooden, or how outdated the screenplay’s “inclusivity” reads. Sting detrimentally feels like an infested Lifetime Halloween special with a stronger FX budget than usual, which is a shame because I’ve seen Roache-Turner blend hilarity, heartfelt sincerity and unique horrors with far superior results. His latest feels like a regression across the board, and while still serviceable in stretches…honestly? Sting deserved better.

Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Writers: Kiah Roache-Turner
Starring: Ryan Corr, Alyla Browne, Penelope Mitchell, Robyn Nevin, Noni Hazelhurst, Silvia Colloca, Danny Kim, Jermaine Fowler
Release Date: April 12, 2024

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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