Ten years after leaving the small town of Black Stone when her husband died, Jane Kozik returns with her young daughter to take up the role of sheriff. Shortly after returning, a homeless man is found dead with what appears to be a number of wasp stings. An entomologist and the local exterminator, who also happens to be Jane’s ex and the twin brother of her dead husband, are called in to investigate. But these aren’t ordinary stings and the trail leads them to Eli Giles, a scientist who developed a genetically engineered wasp as a weapon for the army but is now on the run.
A bizarre offering from the Sci-Fi Channel as part of their ‘Maneater’ series, Black Swarm meshes the traditional insects run amok in a small town story with some random zombification side-story. Despite the weirdness of the story, Black Swarm still runs very much the same as every other film of its type. Only it’s all very lightweight. There’s just something lack with this film which never gives it any ‘oomph.’ There’s not a massive amount of action (or excitement for that matter) and the horror elements are kept to a bare minimum. Black Swarm isn’t a film which goes through the motions rather it skims over them.
At the bottom line, Black Swarm is dull and that’s probably being generous. There’s just no real tension or visual stimulation to get the audience involved with what is going on. I’m not sure whether this is the fault of the editing, which is jerky and disjointed at times and seems to skip whole swathes of plot out from time to time, leading to jumps in continuity. I’m not sure it’s just the fault of the script. Caught between wanting to be a killer insect flick and a zombie flick, Black Swarm doesn’t juggle either element properly. These wasps don’t just kill their victim, they turn them into some sort of zombie-like drones that they can control and then burst out from whenever they need a sneak attack moment. Don’t ask me, I didn’t write it. There are some vague attempts to explain that the wasps use humans as ‘hosts’ to do their bidding but it’s never really given much conviction so you just have to take it for what it’s for – a daft part of the story which no doubt sounded good on paper.
Even in their zombie state, the infected townspeople continue to go about their daily business. Uninfected characters don’t bat even the faintest of eyelids at the likes of the gaunt-faced, boil-ridden priest who grunts and staggers around the church as the mayor attempt to converse with him or a zombified traffic cop being asked questions as if the glazed look on his face was normal. To see these zombies walking around town without anyone questioning them is just crazy writing. Though this writing is more lazy than anything, proven with the sudden aggression and act of murder of the morgue zombie which is totally out of synch with what the rest of the zombies in the town were doing.
Horror legend Robert Englund gets the token ‘mad scientist’ role though his eventual character arc is somewhat different to what one would expect from the man behind Freddy Kruger and many other just as detestable horror characters. Sarah Allen makes for a likeable and attractive lead as Sheriff Kozik and equally as appealing is her on-screen daughter Kelsey played by Rebecca Windheim. Normally I’m the first to complain at the inclusion of a child as one of the main characters but little Miss Windheim is as sweet as they come. Some of the scenes she shares with Englund have a nice warm feeling to them. In fact all of the main characters are decent enough, from the twin brother exterminator to the blind babysitter and everyone in the roles makes the characters nice and friendly enough to want to see survive. This doesn’t happen all of the time so I’ve got to take some small mercies from Black Swarm!
The awkward love story that develops between the sheriff and her ex-flame and previously-deceased husband’s twin brother is as contrived as it comes. Everything falls together just the way you’d expect it to, though the inevitable scene in which the two characters declare their feelings for each other and reveal some home truths about the past could not have been timed any worse. Even Englund’s character uncomfortably looks on as the two love birds kiss and make up and generally spend ages doing it whilst they should have been doing something life-saving like getting out of the warehouse in which the wasps have nested. The wasps are all CGI – understandable given our inability to control real life wasps – but you rarely see a close-up of one, save for a few shots inside the secret lab. The rest of the time, the wasps are just shown in their swarm form. They don’t really do that much during the course of the film.
Black Swarm makes an effort to develop characters in the beginning of the film so it’s interesting to note that this is the only part of the film worth highlighting. They’re likeable enough to make you care for them but it’s a pity that they don’t have much to work with or go up against. Half-assed zombies and cameo-role wasps aren’t exactly riveting to watch.