Reviewed by: Antoni Konieczny

"An impressively self-sufficient horror film with a dash of socio-political commentary." | Photo: Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

Infested (previously titled Vermin during its festival run) treads a familiar path at first. It begins with a monster hunt, in an unspecified desert, led by unnamed hunters. The sequence references the likes of Braindead (a high-octane piece of carnage that precedes the appearance of the film's title board) and The Exorcist (a mood-setting prologue). One may find Infested, set in a Parisian banlieue, also reminiscent of this year’s Evil Dead Rise. Direct and indirect references aside, as time goes on, Sébastien Vaniček crafts an impressively self-sufficient horror film with a dash of socio-political commentary.

Meet Kaleb (Théo Christine). He’s an unhappy 20-something. His source of income is his under-the-counter sneakers enterprise. His apartment, inherited from his deceased mother, requires constant repairs. His sister, who lives with Kaleb, is almost as distant to him as his long-estranged childhood friend, Jordy (Finnegan Oldfield), whom Kaleb can’t forgive for breaking an old promise.

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Kaleb’s lonely. His friends, then, are mainly his sizable menagerie of exotic reptiles and invertebrates. One day, he acquires a spider and accidentally lets it roam the housing complex. The spider does what dangerous creatures do best in horror films: it escapes, multiplies, grows, grows some more, and begins systematically exterminating the local humans. Kaleb, his sister, and their friends naturally decide to get out of the way of the hostile spiders, but ruthless men in uniforms don’t make the matter easy.

What makes an 'animal attack' horror film click is largely the presentation of the creatures in question. They are not bad looking in Infested. For an arachnophobe, the film will embody their worst nightmares. The spiders come off as believable, appropriately nasty, and highly bloodthirsty – both in the miniature and in oversized variants. In addition, the chase scenes, tension-building, and choreography are performed with a precision that elevates the film above associations with mediocre B-movies.

Horror buffs may not experience a particularly strong reaction to Vaniček's tactics, but if it’s lower on shock, the film consistently rewards the viewer with attention to visual detail. Arnaud Bouniort, responsible for production design, squeezes the maximum potential out of every interior presented. Whether it’s Caleb’s room or a corridor annexed by the venomous invertebrates, each space is richly textured. The craftsmanship of the artists from Bouniort’s department is palpable and contributes to the acute sense of claustrophobia throughout.

A sentiment of distrust towards cops further cements the hopelessness. Through the choice of conflicts, locations, and individual struggles, the film makes no secret of its attempt to voice arguments that go beyond genre entertainment. The audiences most likely won’t agree on whether the filmmakers have fulfilled such ambitions. In the battle for an upstanding horror film reputation, however, Vaniček’s feature-length debut is rather doomed to success.

Reviewed on: 14 Sep 2023
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Infested packshot
Kaleb, passionate about exotic animals, accidentally lets his new eight-legged pet slip away.
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Director: Sébastien Vanicek

Writer: Florent Bernard, Sébastien Vanicek

Starring: Finnegan Oldfield, Sofia Lesaffre, Théo Christine, Jérôme Niel, Lisa Nyarko

Year: 2023

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: France

Streaming on: Shudder

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