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Shout Factory // Unrated // November 3, 2015
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 29, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Paul (Matt O'Leary) and his boss Julia (Jessica Cook) knew all too well that this catering gig would be swarming with WASPs; they just figured it'd be the all-caps, more acronymmy kind. After all, this is an elegant dinner party at the palatial estate of some recently-passed pharmaceutical billionaire, teeming with all the stuffed-shirt old money types, career politicians, and trust fund kids you'd expect. It's just that after a while, the problem isn't WASPs so much as...well, wasps: untold hundreds of oversized insects buzzing around and stinging everyone in sight to death. If you thought those buggers were big, just wait. Anyone who gets stung has mutant wasp eggs laid in 'em. When those suckers hatch moments later, a wasp the size of a Great Dane bursts from its fleshy cocoon, leaving tattered bits of skin and chunks of its host's head dangling from its spindly legs.

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Stung, you had me at "giant wasps invade dinner party". If it'd just kept rolling with that straightahead concept for eightysomeodd minutes like some Lavalantula-style SyFy Original, I'd still probably be writing a rave review right about now. Turns out that Stung is a hell of a lot more ambitious than that. With the snarky banter and will-they-won't-they between Paul and Julia, there's an element of romantic comedy bobbing around in here. For a while, it even plays kind of like Party Down with some unusually large winged insects occasionally buzzing around. With its charismatic and talented cast, an ear for clever dialogue, some sleek characterization, and the army of oddballs at this dinner party, I barely noticed that half the movie went by before all Hell really breaks loose. Wasp stings are pretty much zombie bites in Stung. Someone could be infected without the rest of the group having any idea, and even if they all successfully barricade themselves away from the army of insects outside, they're ultimately locking themselves inside with something just as destructive and with no room to flee. Stung also draws more deeply than I ever would've guessed from the Alien series. Okay, they aren't chestbursters so much as full-body-bursters, and the wasps instantly emerge in their final, massive form, but the general idea is still the same. With shades of Alien3, the wasps incorporate something from the hosts they explode out of, from the way they look to the manner in which they behave. ...and, hey, you've even got Lance Henriksen recreating one of Bishop's most memorable moments.

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I mistakenly assumed that Stung was going to be another Camel Spiders or Sand Sharks, with an overbearingly campy tone, howlingly low-rent CGI beasties, and "eh, whatever" production values. That would have been totally okay with me too, but I vastly prefer the movie I wound up getting. Stung looks phenomenal, photographed with an impressively cinematic eye and more expertly crafted than I ever would've dreamt possible. It's especially appreciated that practical effects are used when at all possible. I mean, a swarm of fist-sized bugs or an eight foot long wasp blazing across the screen demand to be realized in the digital domain, but you really are looking at elaborate puppets quite a bit of the time. The scale of Stung's visual effects work is astonishing -- numbering nearly 600 shots, all told -- and it's very nicely done. We're not talking about some quarter-billion dollar summer spectacle, no, but I'd be proud to have any of its effects on my demo reel.

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I'm in awe of how dead-on Stung's instincts are at every turn. Once the hit-or-miss banter that opens the movie is out of the way, it makes all the right moves as a comedy. It works as a goopy, splatter-drenched creature feature. Stung knows how to most effectively set up a scare down the road, milking a hell of a lot of suspense from it along the way. Its sudden jolts pretty much always connect. It has a knack for knowing precisely when to unleash total chaos and when to dial it down. I appreciate that Stung so quickly whittles down its cast, shrugging off the "pick them off, one by one" path most any other movie with this premise would've taken. Because these characters have such personality and are so well-drawn, their pain and torment resonate remarkably well. While the tone can be playful, especially early on, its deaths are never played for laughs. Stung easily ranks among my favorite action movies of the year, and it's more intense and more suspenseful than the majority of more traditional horror efforts to wash up on my doorstep.

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There really aren't any "...but"s, "...except"s, or "if not for..."s to wade through here. Scream Factory and IFC Midnight have been on a hell of a run this year, with The Babadook, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, and now Stung, which I'd point to as far and away my favorite of that lot. I realize that most of the reviews out there have been mixed-to-intensely-negative, but...whatever. I'd say they can buzz off, but I don't feel like being that hokey. For whatever my vote's worth: Highly Recommended.

Shamefully, I gotta admit that I didn't know much of anything about Stung before this Blu-ray disc showed up in my mailbox. (What can I say? The cover alone sold me!) I figured I'd be staring down the barrel of some chintzy-looking, bargain-basement SyFy Original, so imagine my surprise when instead I was treated to this:

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No, really: imagine! It's okay; I'll wait. Worlds removed from some basic cable schlockfest, Stung is strikingly cinematic, superhumanly sharp and detailed, vividly saturated, and all-around gorgeous, really. This nicely-authored disc leaves very little room for complaint either, with no artifacting or assorted digital nasties ever catching my eye. There were times when I found myself wishing that black levels were a bit more pronounced, though; even in the end credits and those times when the screen fades to "black", the meat of the image is considerably brighter than the letterboxing bars. Otherwise, Stung is a complete and total knockout.

The AVC encode for Stung spans both layers of this BD-50 disc, and as you could probably guess from the screenshots scattered throughout this review, the movie's presented at its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1.

As bowled over as I am by the way Stung looks, the way it sounds...? This disc scooped me back up and knocked me over again. This 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack trades punches with the best of 'em. From its first frame to the last, the sound design is exceptionally lively and playful, and it's that much more of a blast in 5.1. Stung is teeming with effects buzzing from one speaker to the next, and the surround channels do a brilliant job in particular reinforcing all that swarming. The presence of the insects is felt even when they're not actually visible. The LFE is colossal, rattling everyone and everything in the room in the best possible way. Stung also skillfully knows when to reign it all in and opt for complete silence, with its quietest moments often elicting more dread than the movie does at its most violent and cacklingly chaotic. Every element in the mix is clear, distinct, and flawlessly balanced, there's not so much as a flicker of clipping or distortion, and...well, for my money, anyway, it's pretty much perfect.

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A lossless stereo track is also along for the ride, and if you need 'em, subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish round out the audio options.

  • Audio Commentary: Producer Benjamin Munz, director Benni Diez, and writer Adam Aresty serve up one of my favorite commentary tracks in a long, long time. The three of them barely stop to catch their breath for nearly an hour and a half straight: how the 580 (!) visual effects shots encompass things I never would've guessed (such as a very subtle head replacement!), how to train a doggy to dig up a subterranean wasp nest, the relentless fog machine helping to cover up potential continuity hiccups, Lance Henriksen pulling Bishop's knife trick on a stunt guy, losing out on Peter Stormare in the eleventh hour, the elaborate set design in a mansion that already delivered every setpiece in the script, and an excuse for me to finally type up "volumetric fire simulation" in one of my reviews. If you don't give this one a listen, you're doing it wrong.

    The three of 'em mention in the commentary that pretty much everything that was shot wound up being used in some form -- even if it wasn't in the way they originally envisioned -- so there really aren't any deleted scenes. The promotional teaser they talk about is, unfortunately, nowhere to be found. That proof-of-concept to show what type of movie they were hoping to make is easy enough to find online, but it's a drag that it didn't find its way here.

  • The Making of Stung (21 min; HD): There's a metric ton (I weighed it and everything) of behind-the-scenes footage in this making-of featurette, including the allure of shooting a movie like this in Berlin, the collaborative and infectiously fun atmosphere on the set, so completely taking over this mansion that the production offices were upstairs while the lower levels were being transformed into an oversized wasps' nest, how much of the crew chimes in with cameos at the end, and the real-life inspiration for this whole thing. Every stage of production is tackled here, down to shooting splatter inserts and recording all the Foley effects. I can't say enough good things about this making-of piece, and I wish you could see me clap like a two-year-old every time they showed off the wasp puppets in action.
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  • Production Blogs (22 min; SD): From costuming to music production to puppeteering gigantic bugs, every stage of getting Stung off the ground was documented in a series of ten vlogs on YouTube. They've all been piled on here as well, although if you've already tuned into the disc's making-of featurette, you've seen a sizeable chunk of this footage. Some of these topics are expanded upon in greater detail here, though, and it's all so deliriously fun that I wouldn't sweat the overlap.

  • Trailer (2 min; HD): Last up is a high-def trailer.

Stung comes packaged in a slipcover and boasts some really slick reversible cover art.

The Final Word
I picked up this Blu-ray disc aching to see a campy horror flick with an army of oversized insects skewering everyone and everything in sight, and I'm happy to say that Stung delivers. The thing is that this movie isn't content to stop there, though. It screams along at a breakneck pace, it's almost absurdly well-cast, its sense of humor is pitch-perfect, and the whole thing looks like it cost many, many times more than I'm sure it did. Even with as gonzo as the movie can be, I cannot get over how intense and suspenseful Stung so frequently is. This one's going on my year-end top ten list for sure: not just ranking among the most memorable genre flicks of 2015, but my favorites of the year, period. Very, very Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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