Review: ‘Sting’

An Alien Spider Lurks In Monster Flick In Need Of More Scares

I believe that most people have some fear of bugs, even if they don’t know it yet. It’s just about finding the right bug to tickle those fear receptors. For some it’s cockroaches, others mosquitoes, but for a lot of people it’s spiders. I mean, they have eight damn legs. There’s something otherworldly about that. We have two legs and get along just fine. But there are also so many different kinds of spiders, including some that are downright lethal, like the Australian black widow, which liquefies the insides of its victims before sucking out the fluid. Now imagine that spider came from another planet, an alien arachnid, and you’ve got the predator stalking an apartment building in Kiah Roache-Turner’s horror, Sting.

Pretty cool idea, right? One can scarcely think of a more terrifying killer than an alien spider with mutant venom. Said creature arrived on this planet riding the back of a falling comet, crash landing into a rundown NYC apartment full of colorful tenants with loads of issues already. The last thing they need is an eight-legged menace, named after Bilbo Baggins’ orc-slaying sword by troubled 12-year-old Charlotte (Aylya Browne), who finds it crawling around in her grandmother’s old dollhouse. A cool effect during the credits finds the creature looking gigantic against the miniature playset, a sign of things to come as this thing grows and evolves like a gremlin fed after midnight.

Roache-Turner’s screenplay is more effectively scary the less we see of the spider. Because let’s be honest; bugs are more intimidating when we can’t see them but know they are lurking among us, waiting for the lights to go out before they wrap us in cocoons and lay eggs in our bellies. That’s what they do, right? Anyway, Charlotte has a lot going on, and Sting doesn’t always feel like a horror, but like a family drama with a killer hiding in plain sight. Charlotte is struggling to connect with her new stepfather Ethan (Ryan Corr) as they work on a comic book together. He’s coming apart at the seams, which only puts more pressure on Charlotte’s mother, Heather (Penelope Miller), who is trying to hold things together with a new baby boy to care for. The threat of Sting only grows when we learn it can somehow mimic other sounds (a creepy weirdo scientist neighbor tells Charlotte that it ain’t no normal spider), a predatory skill that is woefully underused for how cool it is.

Sting often feels at odds with itself. I guess the aim is to be something closer to Arachniphobia or Eight-Legged Freaks, horror films with an equal measure of comedy. But the balance feels off.  There’s some effective body horror as Sting prowls the apartment air ducts, devouring pets, chewing up lonely old ladies, and drawing the attention of an exterminator (the always unfunny Jermaine Fowler) who doesn’t realize he’s going to need more than a can of Raid for this one. But the comedy is ineffective (blame Fowler for a lot of it), and Sting is lacking in truly imaginative horror setpieces that could set it apart. There are no memorable kills to think of, only a lot of jump scares which could be due to budgetary limitations rather than a lack of creative spark from Roache-Turner.

Sting feels like a movie that could’ve been so much more than it is, with a bit more self-awareness and a dash of campy humor. It still manages to accomplish quite a lot, mostly thanks to Browne who is terrific as the plucky heroine and misfit tween. She starts off sweet and just happy to have a friend in her newfound extraterrestrial pet, but when it’s revealed to be a threat to her actual family she makes a believable turn into a clever predator in her own right. It’s just unfortunate that by the time she does, Sting just isn’t that scary anymore, at least not as scary as the real thing.

Sting opens in theaters on April 12th.

Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-stingI believe that most people have some fear of bugs, even if they don't know it yet. It's just about finding the right bug to tickle those fear receptors. For some it's cockroaches, others mosquitoes, but for a lot of people it's spiders. I...