NOVEMBER 25, 2009
We all have that friend who hates every movie he sees. Why we even speak to this person, I have no idea - mine even dislikes American Werewolf In London for Christ’s sake. But even he had praise for Infestation, and rightfully so - it’s the giant bug, indie version of Zombieland, where we follow a group of survivors led by a personable slacker across a post-apocalyptic world through a series of fun but admirably low-key setpieces.
For starters, I have to give props to Chris Marquette as the hero. I’ve never shined to this actor (appearing in such woeful films like Freddy vs. Jason and Just Friends doesn’t help), but he totally nails it here, playing a very me-esque laidback dude who admits to sort of enjoying the idea of being one of the last people alive (these feelings only surface when I look at my credit card bills and mounting un-played video game collection though). His off-the-cuff non sequiturs and totally honest reactions to the events around him (“If I get bit and turn into one of those things... don’t hurt me. Just run away”) totally won me over, and even though the movie doesn’t really re-invent the wheel in any meaningful way, made the film engaging all the way through, even during its weak, Sci-Fi Channel-y conclusion.
More on that, before I return to praise. In the Jurassic Park book, the ending involved Grant entering a nest and destroying it. Spielberg dropped this in favor of a chase through a kitchen and lobby of the main park building. Why? Because going into a nest is boring and generic, whereas the idea of a dinosaur eating you as you walk around a kitchen is terrifying. I understand the need for a big finale, but I wish they could have come up with something a bit more interesting (and funny) than the umpteenth “Let’s kill the queen and a whole bunch of eggs” climax that we’ve seen in Aliens and a dozen other sci-fi movies.
Back to the love though - another thing that really works is the sort of “no one is safe” approach that sees three of our would-be heroes killed within minutes of their introduction. Oddly, it’s the best implementation of this approach I have seen since Feast, which was of course the “Project Greenlight 3” movie (Infestation is written and directed by PGL S2 winner Kyle Rankin). You know Marquette is safe, and his cute love interest too, but everyone else is fair game, and even in the film’s final moments I was still afraid for the lives of two other characters (not to mention the fact that throughout the film they kill off people out of the order you might expect, and in at least one case, in a manner you probably won’t see coming).
I also liked how they pulled off the first “Guy wakes up without remembering what happened to him” opening to a horror movie that didn’t annoy me in quite some time (Saw maybe?). Instead of the Roland Emmerich style 60 minutes of introducing our characters and then letting the destruction begin, the bugs attack prior to the start of the film, allowing us to learn about the survivors as they run and hide. Yes, this means we get little explanation for the giant bug invasion, but so what? The outcome will be the same irregardless of the reason, so why bother with it? There are two somewhat jarring flashbacks that tie into the romantic subplot, but neither of them waste time telling the audience why what they came to see is happening. I cannot deny that seeing 2012 (which I enjoyed as dumb fun) spend three reels explaining why shit was about to blow up made me enjoy this “let’s get a move on” approach more than I might have a few months ago, but either way - unless it ties into something about the characters, I really don’t think these types of movies require an explanation.
I was also tickled by a brief appearance by Bulgarian production actor extraordinaire Todd Jensen. This guy has appeared in at least three other recent Bulgarian-lensed films (It’s Alive, Wrong Turn 3 and Train), and I always enjoy seeing him pop up. Why? Because it lets me know that the film is being filmed in Bulgaria, and thus I don’t spend any time wondering how they managed to shut down a busy metropolis for a low budget horror movie. I’m actually just pretty convinced that Bulgaria is simply a giant backlot for low-budget horror films and that no one actually lives there. Except Todd Jensen.
The music also rocks. It’s a very Jerry Goldsmith-y, Amblin-esque score, which totally fits the film’s balance of horror and good-natured humor. In fact, I’m actually kind of surprised that it’s rated R (largely for language and a random nude scene; the kills aren’t particularly gruesome for the most part); I can almost guarantee that if the film had a theatrical release it would have been cut (easily) down to a PG-13 and, more importantly, not have been weakened by it. I mean, I enjoy a good F bomb as much as the next guy, but I don’t think I would have thought anything of it if someone said “Go to hell!” instead of “Fuck you!” (incidentally, I just watched an episode of 24 where Jack referred to a bad guy as a “piece of crap!”, and I was instantly snapped out of the moment because it was such a tame outburst for a tense moment).
Also, Ray Wise is in the movie. It’s a well known fact that Ray Wise can make even the worst movies slightly enjoyable when he is on-screen, and his repartee with Marquette (he plays his dad) saves the generic climax from being a total loss. The scene where he refuses to let Marquette look at a map “without being taught how to read it” is a wonderful little bit of father/son relations, and their final moment together is a perfect blend of humor and sentiment, akin to Ed and Shaun's final "sorry" fart joke at the end of Shaun of the Dead.
The DVD is sadly kind of slim. Rankin provides an engaging commentary (though he overuses the “I won’t name names - it was ____” joke), but he alludes to deleted scenes and also making of footage (the latter of which he even specifically says is on the DVD) that are nowhere to be found. Still, he packs in a lot of good info about the film, and gives credit where its due to his producers, sound guys, VFX folks (the bug effects are actually pretty impressive for the most part), and actors - he even admits one of Marquette’s best lines is an improv. Not a bad way to revisit the movie, and he helps explain the unintentional ambiguity of the final shot.
If you’re the type of person who hates humor in their horror, then this movie won’t change your mind. But in the aftermath of such terrible “humorous” giant bug movies like Eight Legged Freaks, as well as the increasingly dour Tremors sequels and the underwhelming Snakes On A Plane, Infestation was like a minor godsend for me. If you dug Zombieland I think it will work for you too.
What say you?