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Panic Fest Review: Arachnid Invasion Meets Class Struggle in INFESTED

Theo Christine is positioned center looking up and screaming
Theo Christine in Sébastien Vanícek’s INFESTED | Photo Courtesy of Shudder. A Shudder Release.

By Amylou Ahava

Playing at Panic Fest, INFESTED (French title Vermines) has been crawling through the festival circuit for a while now, and soon, it will infest our homes around the country. Director Sébastien Vanicek, spins a web of suspense and terror that will leave audiences squirming in their seats.

This gripping creature feature follows Kaleb (played by Théo Christine), whose apartment complex becomes a battleground against a horde of rapidly multiplying and growing venomous spiders. As the tenants (a diverse group representing the French underclass) face off against both the arachnid invaders and the indifferent forces of law enforcement, themes of survival, class disparities, and even police brutality emerge, weaving a narrative web that is as socially relevant as it is terrifying. Vanicek's deft direction and the film's expertly crafted tension make INFESTED a spidacular horror experience as it combines compelling characters with many creepy crawlies. 

In the cold opening, a group of men speaking Arabic drive out into the desert armed with machetes and other bladed weapons. One man ventures out on his own into the hot sand and turns over rocks, looking for something. A particular rock uncovers a deep hole, and the men try gassing out the inhabitants of the hole with the intention of catching them. Quickly, this endeavor turns deadly as it becomes a battle of man versus spider. And the spiders came to win!

It’s unclear why the spiders are shipped all over, but one winds up in France, where the street hustler Kaleb buys it and takes it back to his run-down apartment complex. In the place he calls home, nothing in the building works, teenagers run amok, and everyone seems to rely on stealing to make a living. Kaleb enjoys collecting unique and creepy-looking insects, reptiles, and arachnids to escape the chaos. His newest member to the collection is the deadly spider seen in the opening scene. But Kaleb doesn’t know how dangerous his new friend is. Instead, he puts it in a show box and names it Rhianna. 

We are looking out the back window of a van where there are giant spiders crawling over the van
Sébastien Vanícek’s INFESTED | Photo Courtesy of Shudder. A Shudder Release.

Soon, the exotic creepy crawly wanders away from Kaleb and begins to acquaint itself with other residents of the building. After the first death, everyone becomes quarantined within the apartment complex. So, now everyone is trapped inside. But not just with Rhianna. Oh, no. This movie is called INFESTED for a reason. Rhianna quickly repopulated, and now the spider population far outnumbers the number of humans in this building. 

Anyone with even a modicum of arachnophobia will be cringing and cowering through most of this film because INFESTED uses real spiders (from the huntsman species, would be my guess) for most of the movie. There are a few moments where a CGI spider is required to perform a particular stunt, but for the most part, the movie spiders are played by real live spiders. And with all the chittering and twitching legs, these evil arachnids basically crawl right off the screen. 

And while spiders seem to be the film's big baddie, INFESTED also digs into themes of class warfare and police brutality, showing the strength and ingenuity of those society tends to overlook. Like Attack the Block, no one is coming for this underprivileged community, and it’s up to the forgotten class to fight this difficult adversary. The movie paints the tenants of the French apartment complex as a group struggling to get by and are often ignored or mistreated by those in charge. When confronted with the deadly spider invasion, they're left to fend for themselves, which becomes even more deadly when they become stuck in a quarantine enforced by indifferent and ineffective law enforcement. This sets the stage for a tense showdown between the residents and the spiders, symbolizing their larger struggle against societal neglect and oppression.

In the end, INFESTED weaves a thrilling web of horror. The decision to use real spiders adds a layer of creepiness to the film and makes every skitter and twitch feel all too real. Sébastien Vanicek's direction expertly builds tension, while the talented cast brings depth and humanity to their roles, which makes the audience truly care about the characters' fates. So, mark your calendars because thanks to Shudder on April 26, 2024, these eight-legged nightmares will be crawling into your home.


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