Lifelong slacker Cooper is in the process of getting fired from his call centre job when everyone in the office is suddenly blinded by a bright light and falls unconscious. Waking up, Cooper finds himself feeling nauseous and covered in webbing. After breaking free of his cocoon, he is attacked by a huge beetle which he able to fend off. Waking up more of his co-workers without the faintest idea of what happened, Cooper decides to lead his rag-tag group of survivors to his father’s bomb shelter outside the city where they find that giant insects have overrun the entire planet.
Sounds original, eh? Another low budget film with ambitions of grandeur? If it’s not the umpteenth ‘zombie apocalypse on a two dollar budget’ cliché then its some ‘killer bugs try to take over the world made for the price of a hot meal and shower’ nonsense. Most films that try to take on the planet with their overblown ambition end up suffering as a result – they promise ‘end of the world’ scenarios but typically deliver stories with only a handful of survivors in the same dull one-set locations which never give you the sense of apocalyptic scope that bigger budget films can convey. But then every once in a while, a film comes along which doesn’t hit the high vision of the mainstream blockbusters but manages to blow the socks out of its low budget opposition. Say hello to Infestation, a daft low budget movie which is lots of fun and extremely hard not to like.
When a story as tired and well-worn as Infestation sports trudges its way into the spot light, there’s only so much originality that writers can come up with to keep the material fresh. So the focus of the script goes towards keeping the audience entertained even though the clichés roll out thick and fast. Infestation is the perfect example of a film that you’ll have seen before and can predict with great accuracy just where it’s heading at every point. But the pacing is brisk and the initial bug attack happens within the first few minutes to get the ball rolling quickly. The story doesn’t bother with explaining what they are, where they came from or why they’re here – the only thing anyone needs to worry about is the fact that they are here and hungry. The only problem with the whole notion of the bug attack is the sense of scope that the supposedly city-wide (or even nation-wide, we never know) infestation is very limited due to the low budget.
The film isn’t laugh out loud funny but there are enough amusing lines to keep things ticking over smoothly without ever feeling forced. Unfortunately at times the film doesn’t really know whether it wants to play straight or funny, striking an uneasy balance between the two. Case in point is a slightly awkward scene which provides the film’s token nudity as mentally-unhinged weather girl Cindy strips off and tries to seduce Cooper. You’re not sure whether to laugh at what is going on or feel a bit alarmed as the lass is clearly in distress and the situation shouldn’t really be funny. It’s not the only moment where the film isn’t quite comfortable with straight or silly.
The bugs themselves are mainly rendered in CGI and they’re good for what they need to be, not played for laughs but given enough to do to turn them into a very serious threat. The film isn’t very gory in the traditional sense but the make-up artists have a field day with old school 80s gloop and slime, showering the cast in blown-up bug parts whenever possible. The combination of the two styles of effects work well and given that most of the film is shot during the day, the low budget CGI effects work better than they have any right to do.
Though the bugs are the focal point of the film, this is essentially a road movie centred on the character of Cooper and him finally growing up and taking some responsibility for his life. Along the way there is the opportunity for him to mend the broken father-son bond and for him to become a man. Chris Marquette is really good in the lead role. Yes the character is one we’ve seen countless times before but Marquette instils the character with a nice amount of natural charm, rattling off a few dry jokes and using some great mannerisms to get across his character’s reluctance to put himself in any harm.
The romantic subplot between Cooper and the lovely Sara (played by the delectable Brooke Nevin) never seems forced: Cooper continually hitting on her throughout the film eventually wins her over but even then there’s no dramatic kissing or “I love you” moment – just two young people who have bonded in a romantic way. It’s nice to see a romance which doesn’t feel forced down our throats simply because Hollywood narrative cinema dictates that a heterosexual romance is a necessity in every film. Ray Wise steals the show as Cooper’s dad and gets most of the best lines even though he doesn’t show up till about two thirds into the film. But that’s a testament to Wise’s ability as a great character actor.
Infestation is good old fashioned low budget monster movie entertainment. Light-hearted, good-natured and consistently entertaining , it’s the perfect example of how low budget comedy horrors should set about their task. Everyone involved gets right behind the film and its intention right from the start and the final product is a testament to their efforts. I wouldn’t say no to a sequel.