We’re a little bit late for Insect Week, which ended on June 26 this year, but any time’s a good time to celebrate the bugs and critters who have crept and crawled their way onto our cinema screens - from silent incarnations like Wladyslaw Starewicz’s The Insects Christmas, which you can watch at the end of this feature, through horror films like Phenomena and animation to documentary. So this week we’re tuning our antennae to a few of the best.
Minuscule 2 Photo: Signature Entertainment
Minuscule 2, Amazon Prime
This vibrant animation brings a whole new meaning to the instruction, "Ladybird, ladybird fly away home", as one of the little insects sneaks out from hibernation only to end up taking an unexpected trip to the Caribbean, with a parent in tow. We see how the pair of them cope and make new friends on Guadeloupe at the same time as their ant buddy launches a rescue attempt from back in France with the help of a classical-music loving spider. The film is notable for its inclusivity - since it is never specified whether this is a little boy ladybird or a little girl, it relies on each individual child applying their own imagination to the story. And although this is a French-made film it is dialogue-free, relying on visuals and excellent sound design, like Shaun The Sheep, so any age can enjoy it.
Mimic, Chili, AppleTV
Many bugs' natural ability to use camouflage along with humans' ability to create a 'solution' to a problem with unintended consequences form the building blocks for Guillermo del Toro's tense little chiller. Down in the subways someone - or, rather, something that looks like someone - is picking off children for lunch and scientists Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) and Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) are on the case. As with all del Toro films, they are built on suspense and dread as much as special effects, with the clicking of the sound design used to impressive effect as he takes us into a subterranean world that is fraught with danger. It might not be del Toro's greatest achievement but this is a well-made and stylish slice of sinister fun that doesn't forget to give its characters, both male and female, some backbone.
Mandibles, Film4 on Demand
Not all giant insects are evil - the one in Quentin Dupieux's film has a certain ambivalence at least, but then you would expect nothing but quirky treatment from a director who has previously based films on a murderous tyre (Rubber) and a man who takes the idea of killer style literally (Deerskin). Despite the presence of a thigh-high fly, this is a surprisingly charming absurd comedy. French comedians Grégoire Ludig and David Marsais co-star as a pair of amiable goofballs in the Dumb and Dumber vein, who hatch a harebrained heist plan after finding the fly - who they name Dominique - in a carboot. Expect the unexpected as comic complications ensue as they try to train her up and look out for the normally more seriously cast Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is The Warmest Colour) as she shouts out her ability to turn her hand at comedy loud and clear.
Antz, Amazon Prime, Apple TV
Woody Allen brings his familiar neuroticism to this animation about a worker ant, Z (which rhymes with bee, because this is American), who is less than happy with his lot in DreamWorks' first animated feature - a much more sarcastic affair than audiences raised on Disney were used to at the time. After a chance encounter with the bored princess of the colony (Sharon Stone), Z finds himself trading places with his soldier buddy (Sylvester Stallone) and before you can say, the colony is under threat, he's trying to thwart a totalitarian general's (Gene Hackman, as much of a joy on vocals as he is in person) evil plans. With its streetwise scripting and politics that quietly celebrate independent thought this is a film with one eye firmly on an older audience, but Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson's animation nevertheless delivers enough more easily accessible humour to keep kids on board.
Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov's documentary begins as a purely observational documentary of one of and, quite possibly, the last, wild beekeeper in Macedonia, Hatidze - who appears to be the only resident of a tumbledown village, save for her ailing mother Nazife. The directors quietly watch the pair of them as they go about their business, but the whole film takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of itinerant Turkish couple Hussein and Ljutvie, their herd of cattle and their gaggle of kids. The story then opens out into a consideration of husbandry versus economics, not to mention the pluses and minuses associated with Hatidze's isolation. Shot with a cinematic eye for the landscape that makes you feel as though you're watching a fiction film at times, this is a beautifully made consideration of a way of life that is dying out.
Phenomena, Shudder, Arrow
Jennie Kermode writes: Shortly before her breakthrough with David Bowie in Labyrinth, Jennifer Connelly became the unlikely star of a Dario Argento film, whisked away to Switzerland to star alongside a chimpanzee called Tanga, who hated her and would attack her at the slightest excuse. Though this is one of his lesser-known films, fans of the giallo master's work will not be surprised to learn that her character is stalked by a psychopathic killer (not Tanga), but there's a twist: she has a supernatural ability which enables her to communicate with insects and summon them to her aid. Donald Pleasance co-stars as the disabled entomologist who takes an interest in her. Though the whole is somewhat incoherent, there are some visually stunning set pieces, a pulsing electronic score and, of course, lashings of gore.
Starship Troopers, Disney+, Apple TV
Jennie Kermode writes: Unfairly dismissed for the first two decades of its existence, Paul Verhoeven's slick satire, (very) loosely based on Robert A Heinlein's Farmer In The Sky, was perhaps just a bit too good at its job for most people to realise what it was doing. It's presented as a propaganda piece by the fascist Earth authorities sending younger and younger kids to a front line with a life expectancy of four and a half minutes as they pursue a ruthless war of conquest against an interspecies alliance of assorted giant bugs. Patriotic human heroes try to navigate all the usual challenges of adolescence whilst caught up in a campaign they have no hope of understanding, and as in his earlier film Robocop, Verhoeven uses adverts, trailers and other sly asides to show us the bigger picture. Do you want to know more?