In early 2009, I got my first glimpse of Infestation in the form of a YouTube trailer, which suggested the movie was destined for theaters. No dice. Seven months later, a commercial popped on the TV announcing the movie's premiere on the SyFy channel, and then yet one more month later the DVD was on the shelf in a Fry's Electronics. Having finally gotten ahold of a copy, the film was more or less worth the wait. Admittedly, I'm biased towards this kind of movie: creatures getting splattered in a mish-mash of comedy and sci-fi or horror (preferrably, if you really want to boil it down, with a schlub in an increasingly battered suit as the hero), so perhaps that affected (or infected) my enjoyment of the film, but even then, this is a perfectly amusing time-waster.
In the case of Infestation, the schlubby suit-wearer is a character named Cooper, played by Chris Marquette. In 2004 and 2005, Marquette landed major roles in both The Girl Next Door and Freddy vs. Jason. He seemed like he had a real knack for comedy, and aside from a poorly-advised imitation of a Hannibal Lecter speech, his performance here still indicates a charismatic and funny guy who deserves more movie roles. Cooper works in a call center thanks to some string-pulling by his militant father (Ray Wise), but he spends less office time working and more time playing a prank game getting people to turn around and then pretending he didn't try and get their attention. This kind of horseplay -- and a rude interaction with a customer -- have printed Cooper's pink slip, but before he can get fired, a high-pitched howl knocks everyone unconscious, and when Cooper comes to, he finds himself surrounded by unconscious, cocooned co-workers and giant, angry bugs.
Infestation is a low-budget movie, so the CG bugs often look just that, particularly when characters are required to tussle with them. Wisely, writer/director Kyle Rankin (who cut his teeth on the "Project Greenlight" winner The Battle of Shaker Heights) chooses to stylize the movie so that the buggy villains look appealingly cartoonish (especially their amusingly foamy white blood, which looks to be approximately the consistency of Cool Whip or shaving cream). Rankin also stages a reasonably impressive amount of mayhem given the obvious constraints on the movie, without just blindly trying to overcompensate with faux-Raimi madness.
One of the most unusual themes in the movie is that of family. Not that there's anything wrong with family, but there literally isn't a major character in the movie (or even many supporting characters in the film) that doesn't have an on-screen relative. In addition to Cooper and his father, the group of survivors include the film's heroine Sara (Brooke Nevin), who watches Cooper's boss/her mother Maureen (Deborah Geffner) get scooped up and taken away by the bug creatures; father-and-son team Albert (Wesley Thompson) and Hugo (E. Quincy Sloan), concerned about their dying mom; and Cindy (Kinsey Packard) pointing the way to the house where her brother and his wife live. Hell, there's even a trio of rogue vigilantes late in the film that include a father (Jim Cody Williams) and daughter (Diane Gaeta). I can't say the movie finds much time to bring some grand meaning to all of this, what with all the bug-dogs and spider-people, but it's an intriguing inclusion.
In addition to Marquette, the rest of the cast is also pretty good. Nevin stays punchy and never plays the "damsel in distress" even when the movie tries to put her in those situations, and she forms some really believable chemistry with Marquette by the end of the movie. Wise is a shade underutilized, but he gets in a really great joke or two to make up for it. Albert and Hugo, meanwhile, are two of the most likable, nice people I've ever seen in a movie like this (which are normally filled with selfish double-crossers), and the film's gentle but straightforward handling of Hugo's inability to hear is endearing. Only Packard's performance is a bit all over the map, but even that can be chalked up to the screenplay, which never quite fills in her character motivation as clearly as it should.
Infestation isn't destined for the history books, but it's a fun little movie that genre fans probably won't mind tossing on every once in awhile. Not to make the review sound like a backhanded compliment, but when most of the horror movies are bending over backwards trying to make their mark, it's a relief to find a movie that isn't too ambitious for its own good. Rankin seems to know what kind of movie he wants to make, and he makes it, indulging the occasional flair or flourish, but without grandly overstepping his limitations or trying to shake the formula up to the point where the movie starts to fall apart. No doubt Rankin would have liked to see his film in theaters, but the SyFy Channel actually seems like a good fit: instead of the usual awful movies on that channel, this one should leave a bored Saturday night viewer pleasantly surprised.
Infestation gets a fittingly stylized cover artwork that looks more like the front of a comic book cover than a DVD. I think they could have gone a little farther with it though, the design would look a little more dynamic if Marquette and Nevin were moved back a little bit (and perhaps it would be better if they hadn't put her in a ridiculously sleazy cleavage top that never appears in the movie). The back cover is a little lazier, with too much empty space. The cover art is wrapped around an Infiniti case with no insert, but there is a sticker on the plastic informing potential buyers to text a number to get the movie's trailer sent to them. A clever idea, but the sticker is small and dull-looking; future releases should probably make it bigger and really spell it out with colors and fonts so that anyone browsing actually notices.
The Video and Audio
Infestation looks a little fuzzy via First Look's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen tranfer (which the case says is 1.78:1, but the film itself is clearly 1.85), but otherwise fine given the film's budget. Colors are occasionally vivid but there's not a lot of fine detail in the transfer and blacks could be a little richer. On the upside, I didn't see any artifacts. The only other quibble I might add is the fact that a flashback/dream sequence (to one of the earliest scenes in the film) looks noticeably more vivid than the rest of the image, and I don't know why.
Viewers might panic a little hearing the first dialogue scene in the movie in this 5.1 Dolby Digital audio mix, because it sounds muddy and awful, but the commentary indicates the scene was redubbed, which explains the poor sound. The rest of the movie sounds fine, with clear dialogue and some mediocre attempts at directional audio. The film generally tends to amp up the music and sound effects in an attempt to create some true 5.1 surround sound audio, but for the most part, it sounds a bit flat. Not a big deal though. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Sadly, there's only one bonus feature on this disc, an audio commentary by writer/director Kyle Rankin. It's an alright commentary, with Rankin explaining a good amount of production detail and the challenges of shooting a low-budget film, but it'd be gangbusters to have had a cast commentary as well, or to have included the numerous deleted scenes that Rankin mentions were chopped out of the film.
Infestation is a surprisingly enjoyable little bit of monster mashing that at once deserves better than its dump to cable television, yet feels like a perfect fit. It may not be worth running out and buying for everyone, but I'll recommend it anyway, with the advice that the skeptical should consider scanning the SyFy Channel listings to see if they're planning on reairing the movie first.
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