Giant Killer Ants (2017)
When the 1989 one-hit-wonder glam-metal band Sonic Grave embark on a trip to Coachella in hopes of a comeback, their peyote trip pit stop in Joshua Tree soon upsets the balance of nature and they find themselves fighting an army of ever-growing giant ants.
When the opening sequence to a film involves a young woman being chased by a giant ant and somehow manages to strip off her clothes to throw at it to try and slow it down, providing full frontal nudity within five minutes, you know exactly what type of dumb, cheese fest you’re in for. Giant Killer Ants (probably more commonly known as Dead Ant) sets the bar so low, there is just the faintest of space over rock bottom in this dumb cross between a 1950s creature feature and This Is Spinal Tap. It’s not exactly the most obvious of bedfellows but it kind of works, sometimes.
Heavy metal and horror have always worked well together, with a clear sharing of iconography and fan bases, and Giant Killer Ants works about as well as it could with the material from both. There’s far more mileage to be had from Sonic Grave being washed-up rockers, with there being some gentle lampooning of the hair metal fad of the 80s and plenty of daft jokes at the expense of one-hit wonder bands who seem to cling on to fame forever, and you’ll wish the script would have done more with it. The metal cliches come thick and fast throughout, some true and others not, but Giant Killer Ants isn’t looking to make any statements, just use them for comedic purposes. But like everything on show here, the film never quite knows which path it wants to take. Sometimes serious, sometimes silly. Never decisive. It is this haphazard, loosely structured direction which is the film’s main weakness.
The first half of Giant Killer Ants is a real chore to sit through. I get they have to try to build up some back story but the peyote trip stop takes up far too much time, wallowing in cliched scenes of characters doing drugs and tripping out which don’t add much to the story apart from allowing everyone involved to film some crazy sequences. It’s stereotypical stoner comedy, and generally unfunny at that. The script tosses out plenty of humour but much of it fails to hit its target, making any audience feel guilty that they should be laughing more than they are. Giant Killer Ants finds it feet on more comfortable footing once the first ants have emerged from the ground and from then on, it’s set piece after set piece of the characters finding ways to battle the bugs, which grow bigger and bigger every time one of them is killed. Again, just like the comedy, you’re sat watching the action and wanting it to be more entertaining than it actually is.
It appears that this sub-genre has become so entrenched in ropey CGI effects that no one ever bothers trying anymore. The ants look awful, be they on their own in their smaller form or a giant black mass of badly animated sprites when they’re chasing the truck in the film’s final third. Even some of the stuff on Sy Fy has looked more polished than this. The bigger the ants get, the worse they look. They can do a bit of damage though, which provides the film’s violence and horror. The gore moments are fine – they’re mainly real, or at least look it, and effective enough in making the odd cringe-moment come to life. One character has a difficult job in keeping hold of various limbs as the film progresses. It’s not a gore-fest but it ticks the boxes and is mainly played for laughs.
Giant Killer Ants has a solid cast on hand, it’s just they have so little to work with outside of some generic cliches. It’s a huge fall from grace from Sean Astin, who would have had the world at his feet after The Lord of the Rings films and who has now been reduced to feasting on bit-roles in low budget genre offerings like this. Jake Busey is entertaining enough to work in a goofball role like this one, Rhys Coiro is decent as the lead guitarist but it is Tom Arnold who steals the show as the band’s sleazy manager, firing off some superb deadpan quips during the carnage and is the contributor of the bulk of the best lines (I’m paraphrasing here but the line “forget him, he’s only the bass player” made me howl). The cast make the characters likeable, despite the best efforts of the script to strip them of much characterisation, they work off each other brilliantly (they do a great job at selling the notion that they’ve been bandmates for years) and the fact they are hopelessly washed-up losers will at least endear them to an audience.
Giant Killer Ants never quite manages to sustain its goofy formula, with plenty of wrong notes being played amidst the generic crowd-pleasers, but it’s a difficult film to hate. There’s a lot of goofy charm and energetic personality lurking around, even if the finesse isn’t there to add the finishing touches.
Giant Killer Ants
Also Known As: Dead Ant
Director(s): Ron Carlson
Writer(s): Hank Braxtan (story), Ron Carlson (screenplay), Dan Sinclair (story)
Actor(s): Tom Arnold, Rhys Coiro, Jake Busey, Leisha Hailey, Cameron Richardson
Duration: 87 mins