Monster Movie Monday: Swarmed (2005)
Matthew Turner | On 01, Feb 2021
Director: Paul Ziller
Cast: Michael Shanks, Carol Alt, Richard Chevolleau, Booth Savage
Watch Swarmed online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
In the mood for a creature feature? Amazon Prime has a veritable menagerie of monster movies, so we’re working our way through them, one killer beastie at a time. Welcome to Monster Movie Mondays.
Directed by Paul Ziller, Swarmed is a Canadian made-for-TV creature feature produced by Sci Fi Pictures, the low budget studio behind SyFy Channel staples like Sharknado, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and Dragon Wasps. Surprisingly, Swarmed is one of their better offerings, perhaps because CGI wasps aren’t quite as egregiously terrible to look at as certain other creatures when it comes to digital effects work.
Set in small town Dundas, Indiana – and shot in Dundas, Ontario – Swarmed begins with scientist Kent Horvath (Michael Shanks) messing around with some Yellowjacket wasps in a lab. After a clumsy janitor accidentally frees a couple of them and dies from a sting, Horvath realises that the pesticide he’s been working on actually makes the wasps especially deadly, and hyper-aggressive to boot.
Unfortunately, Kent’s exterminator buddy Q (Richard Chevolleau) has recently “borrowed” some of the experimental bug spray and he unwittingly creates an entire swarm’s worth of genetically altered killer wasps before Kent and insectologist Cristina (Carol Alt) can warn him. To make matters worse, wasps are attracted to the smell of meat, and the town of Dundas is just about to begin its famous annual burger cook-off.
There’s some particularly striking close-up photography of real wasps in the early, lab-based scenes, but wasp wrangling can only go so far, so once they’re in the air, the film resorts to obvious-looking CGI. In fairness, as CGI creatures go, the wasps aren’t that bad, and the animation (because that’s basically what it is) does at least allow for a cool-looking dive-bombing effect when the wasps attack.
To that end, this is probably one of the few SyFy Channel movies that might have been good in 3D, since there are a number of moments where the wasps appear to fly towards the audience or hover about in the foreground of the shot.
Effects-wise, the film’s masterstroke is the deployment of a wasp’s-eye-view camera effect, or wasp-cam. Coloured orange and slightly distorted around the edges, the effect is used well throughout the film, mostly letting you know in advance which characters are being targeted for a stinging, but really coming into its own in a scene where a single wasp prepares to attack the corrupt Mayor (Christopher Bondy) and Ziller’s direction makes it look like they’re staring each other down.
The plot, like so many other creature features, borrows liberally from Jaws, with its inclusion of an important-to-the-town event that greedy officials refuse to shut down until its too late. Amusingly, the wasps seem to instinctively know which characters are the real wrong’uns and they don’t mess about when it comes to meting out the sting of karmic justice. That backfires slightly, because the Mayor arguably dies too soon, meaning we don’t get to see his reaction to the actual swarm, but his death scene is the best (and nastiest – you may want to look away if you’re squeamish), so we’ll let that slide.
Miguel Tejada-Flores’ script assembles an appealing collection of characters and, crucially, gives each of them something interesting to do. The film could have used a little more humour and creativity (especially in the wasp attacks), but at least there is some levity, most of which is down to a wonderful performance from Richard Chevolleau, who has a natural, easy-going charm that works perfectly. In fact, he’s so good that you wonder why he hasn’t been snapped up by more mainstream productions.
The rest of the acting is something of a mixed bag. Shanks, the de facto lead, is fairly wooden, while Ellen Dubin is actively terrible as the Mayor’s assistant and Maria Brooks gives a largely disinterested performance as TV reporter Melanie. However, there are enough good performances to balance that out, most notably Chevolleau, Alt, Bondy and Tim Thomerson as Washburn, the shady businessman who stands to profit from the cook-off.
Ultimately, if you can get past the dodgy CGI wasp and swarm effects – there’s a very funny bit where a tiny black cloud appears in the far distance – then there’s more than enough here to make Swarmed worth your while, especially when an unexpected character decides that the best way to kill a wasp is with a shotgun. Kids, don’t try this at home, etc.
Swarmed is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.