Saturday, May 18, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Sting’ Lacks Bite

Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Writer: Kiah Roache-Turner
Stars: Alyla Browne, Ryan Corr, Jermaine Fowler

Synopsis: After raising an unnervingly talented spider in secret, 12-year-old Charlotte must face the facts about her pet and fight for her family’s survival when the once-charming creature rapidly transforms into a giant, flesh-eating monster.

Kiah Roache-Turner’s Sting had all the makings of a great spider horror flick, especially considering there hasn’t been a memorable one since the release of Ellory Elkayem’s Eight Legged Freaks. Of course, Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia pioneered the subgenre, with its deft blend of spine-tingling scares and gut-busting laughs, which Sting seems to take heavy inspiration from, especially through the figure of Frank (Jermaine Fowler), the exterminator. 

Frank receives a call from Helga (Noni Hazlehurst), who complains about a strange noise in her apartment, which the exterminator investigates with a rather frightening glare. Roache-Turner does a great job establishing the nature of the threat, with quick camera swishes that exacerbate the tension as Helga can’t comprehend what’s happening beyond her apartment’s walls. It’s also the film’s only legitimately terrifying scene, as it perfectly establishes how big the spider will eventually get and attack everyone inside the apartment complex as a massive snowstorm forces them to stay put. 

The movie then cuts back to four days earlier, when a small meteorite (you need to suspend your disbelief for a bit) crashes into the apartment complex, where an alien egg hatches and a spider emerges. As Charlotte (Alyla Browne) explores the apartment through the ventilation shaft, she sees a rather strange but fascinating spider and decides to catch (and raise) it, unbeknownst to her mother (Penelope Mitchell) and stepfather (Ryan Corr). Of course, those who’ve seen Joe Dante’s Gremlins know what will happen, as the spider (named Sting, though anyone expecting The Police will be disappointed) asks Charlotte to feed her through a special whistle. 

Sting eventually grows in size, which puzzles the apartment’s anthropologist (Danny Kim), and what’s obviously going to happen happens: it starts killing people, and it’s now up to Charlotte to stop what she’s started. However, this is Roache-Turner’s cardinal mistake, none of the kills are shown on screen, despite the film’s R-rating. What is an R-rating good for if you don’t give the people what they want (bloody kills that accompany its staggering practical effects)? 

No, the R-rating is only here because a few characters say the F-word more times than the PG-13 rating allows; otherwise, it probably would be a movie that most families can enjoy. The presentation is seemingly done akin to Roch Demers’ Tales for All, a series of (allegedly, I’ll never define them as such) family-friendly movies in Quebec that began in the mid-’80s, often involving otherworldly aspects that have traumatized a generation of children as they suffered either emotional (Cléo’s death in The Dog Who Stopped the War is the most famous example of this) or physiological distress (all copies of The Peanut Butter Solution should be burned to ensure future generations don’t develop PTSD at the age of 5). 

You have a child protagonist involved in a larger-than-life situation where their own problems cause the people around them to be in danger, again similar to the Tales of All films. In that respect, Sting definitely has elements of family-friendly fare going for it, but its R-rating absolutely feels unjustified, almost as if it’s afraid to show any physical violence at kids when the Tales for All series (and its deviations) were far more violent and weren’t afraid to terrify child audiences to endless nightmares (no, really, Quebec’s family film industry needs to be studied). 

So there’s no excuse for Sting to go full R-rating, even if Roache-Turner’s approach can be considered family-friendly. As a result, none of the kills feel effective, no matter the fun, practical effects, and dynamic cinematography on display. You can only go so far if one decision completely sinks the film’s pace and action, and Roache-Turner seems to forget that most (if not all) audiences are here for the spiders and to see people being gratuitously murdered by them. The rest is completely irrelevant, but would be welcomed if the character relationships are treated with care and emotional investment. 

Unfortunately, none of the family dynamics work here. They’re all haphazardly written and check a box full of clichés without a single thought beyond appropriating their relationships above clichés. The performances aren’t entirely terrible, but there isn’t a single moment where the audience wants to latch onto the characters and feel for them as Sting begins to (predictably) kill the people inside the apartment. And when none of the kills or action scenes are in any way memorable, it’s a one-two punch of boredom as one wonders exactly when this ordeal will end. 
The movie’s ending does leave the door open for Sting 2, which isn’t something I’d be entirely against because the problems in this film are easily fixable, and it starts with fully leaning into your R-rating beyond foul language. Once that’s fixed, it may be easier to latch onto the characters since their story will complement the on-screen gore. Until then, Sting will remain one of the most disappointing movies of the year, one whose potential is immediately wasted by the time it’s clear the movie will be nothing more than a slightly edgier PG-13 horror flick with one-note protagonists populating its paper-thin and predictable story.

Grade: D

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