It’s always a gamble to seek out and watch movies that are on the margins of quality; they could have their middling, C-grade rating because the work doesn’t gel with that wide an audience, or because the makers were trying something new and exciting and just missed the mark. B+ rated movies are a known quantity, it’s most likely that they are going to be good at what they are doing from the offset, and any issues are just going to be personal preference. D- films are just punishment for punishments’ sake, something you watch for pure snark or irony. But the middle ground is when hitting “play” becomes an adventure in its own right; an exciting land where things can go either way…
Sadly, Infestation isn’t something that lands on the Trash side of that line, although it does try its hardest. Things start well, with your average “bad attitude slacker is a jerk, so gets fired”-comedy taking a sudden turn into “oh my God, everyone’s been put into cocoons by giant insects!”-horror. Cooper (Christ Marquette) is the jerk, and it’s his fate to turn into a nice person thanks to wanting to sleep with Sara (Brooke Nevin) and impress his dad (Ray Wise) by surviving the bugpocalypse.
He’s even got friends with him to help on his hero’s journey: Linda Park is the scientist who handles exposition, Kinsey Packard is the hot one who randomly gets her kit off, E. and Quincy Sloan is the random deaf son, with Wesley Thompson as his dad to do some seriously impressive emotional work with minimal dialogue. There’s also a couple who get wiped out by the bugs early on, to establish the stakes and show just how much attention the Foley team has put into the sound of bones breaking. To be candid: some of the injury noises made my stomach churn. A+++ would not want to hear again.
Throw on top the bugs, and overall SFX looking way better than it should do for this kind of film, and there is a really solid grounding for what’s about to come. This includes the hybrid insects, that are utterly repulsive and used surprisingly sparingly, and some actual emotional trauma shown within the script. It’s got comedy, it’s got action, and it’s got drama. Unfortunately, this is where it all starts to fall apart.
Firstly, the comedy is mostly not funny. There are some actually laugh-out-loud moments, occasionally not created by something really unpleasant happening on screen, but most of the attempted gags land flat. Either the timing is off, or the lines are delivered too weakly, or things head towards drama and end up looking ridiculous (and, in one occasion, pretty offensive). Additionally, the slacker is a jerk and mostly remains a jerk. He’s annoying, rather than funny, and the revealing of his backstory makes him more of a jerk than he already is. So that mucks up the drama side of things, as it all ends up being far to lightweight. Some of the characters have some lovely emotional moments, but with Cooper carrying the story by being a loser, they all end up feeling out of place and wasted.
Similarly, the horror isn’t that horrific. Oh, it’s got some lovely makeup and visual effects, both for the humans and the insects, but other than a couple of jump scares it’s mostly a case of unpleasant concepts rather than actual visceral scares. Unless you have a problem with bugs and spiders, in which case you will be bricking yourself at those bits. There is lovely attention to detail on the body horror, but that somehow gets lost amongst the comedy and the drama not working too well.
Throw in a fairly by-the-numbers storyline, very few twists that aren’t overt plot-bombs, and an ending that is best described as a pointless let-down, and it all heads into Trash territory after the first 20 minutes. Which is frustrating, as you can see how it could have worked out so much better. No one, not even Christ Marquette, did a bad job of what they were given. There was a huge amount of detail put into the filming, and, as said, some lovely visual work on display. It just needed some clear direction, and a clear decision, on what it wanted to be. Instead, it just faffed around, wasting time and the viewer’s goodwill on bits that never really paid off, and felt forgettable even whilst watching it.