Credit: Shudder
by Daniel Gorman Featured Film Streaming Scene

Infested — Sébastien Vaniček

May 3, 2024

As of this writing, Sam Raimi has just tapped Sébastien Vaniček to helm a new Evil Dead movie. Based on the evidence of Infested, Vaniček’s debut feature-length film, it’s an inspired choice. After what seems like a couple of decades of dirt-cheap, made-for-Syfy-channel dreck like Arachnoquake, Ice Spiders, and Arachnicide, Infested returns the eight-legged arthropods to their rightful place at the top of the phobia mountain. Make no mistake, anyone with even the slightest distaste for arachnids should stay far away from this film; it’s a masterclass in creepy-crawly atmosphere, a dread-inducing spectacle that will have you shaking out of your clothes and checking your shoes before putting them on. It gets under the skin, so to speak.

After a brief prologue that finds a group of men uncovering a nest of deadly spiders somewhere in Morocco, Vaniček and co-writer Florent Bernard slow things down, taking their time to introduce viewers to the world of the Arènes de Picasso housing complex in the suburbs of Paris. Young Kaled (Théo Christine) is a charming, motor-mouthed hustler, wheeling and dealing with other residents of the building in an effort to make ends meet. His sister Manon (Lisa Nyarko) is busying herself by remodeling their shared apartment in an effort to sell it. Kaled and Manon’s mother has recently passed away, and Manon is eager to leave the apartment (and bad memories) behind. Kaled wants to stay, even as his friends and neighbors also busy themselves with plans for leaving the dilapidated housing project. It’s not lost on Vaniček that most of the building’s residents are minorities and immigrants (the director grew up not far from the Arènes de Picasso himself), and there is much tension between the value of community versus the sometimes harsh reality of being poor and Black in contemporary France.

Kaled is also a collector of rare, not exactly legal animals and insects; the narrative proper begins when he purchases one of the exotic spiders from a local dealer and brings it home. As Kaled struggles with the sudden arrival of Jordy (Finnegan Oldfield) and Lila (Sofia Lesaffre), old friends with whom he has had a falling out, the spider chews its way out of the cardboard box it was being stored in and promptly begins reproducing in mass numbers. It’s not long before a resident turns up dead, which further complicates matters. A racist neighbor is convinced that Kaked is selling drugs to residents, while the police respond by quarantining the building in case it’s a Covid-like virus. It doesn’t take long for Kaled and his friends to realize what’s going on, and the second half of the film finds them on a desperate, dangerous journey to warn neighbors and try to make their way out of the building.

Vaniček seems to instinctively understand just what exactly makes spiders so unnerving; when there is only one, it can slip through and hide anywhere, which also means that it can pop out from anywhere at anytime. But they are equally terrifying en masse; the only thing worse than one spider is hundreds of them, scurrying over every surface. Vaniček and cinematographer Alexandre Jamin expertly chart the claustrophobic spaces of the housing project, where every dark hallway becomes a gauntlet of webs and every doorway or bathroom suggests a million potential hiding spots for the unwelcome guests. Essentially a series of set pieces where Kaled and company must get from point A to point B without getting bitten, Infested has no trouble killing off characters that you’ve grown to like. It’s a genuinely merciless thriller, and absolutely the best creature feature in recent memory. Fair warning for the skittish and the arachnophobic.

DIRECTOR: Sébastien Vaniček;  CAST:Théo Christine, Sofia Lesaffre, Finnegan Oldfield, Lisa Nyarko;  DISTRIBUTOR: Shudder;  STREAMINGApril 26;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 46 min.