Features Live Action Movies


Director – Kiah Roache-Turner – 2024 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 91m


A girl traps a venomous spider and cares for it as a pet, but as she feeds it, it grows… and grows… and gets out… – into UK cinemas on Friday, May 31st

Helga (Noni Hazlehurst) is hearing strange noises in her Brooklyn apartment. She doesn’t remember so good, however, helpfully pinned to the wall by the phone is her name and address. So when she phones Frank the pest exterminator (Jermaine Fowler), she can read those details to him. It’s probably a rat, he tells her. Soon he is at the door of the block, asking her to buzz him in. But inside the apartment, he realises this particular bug may be more than he bargained for.

Flash back to four days earlier. A hand-sized meteor plunges to Earth to crash through a window into a doll’s house in the same apartment block. It is a tiny pod not unlike the ones in Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979). It opens, hatching a small spider, which looks huge until we realise it’s in a small scale doll’s house, not outside in the apartment proper. The spider is found by Charlotte (Alyla Brown from Furiosa: A Mad Max Story, George Miller, 2024) who empties out her money jar, the one with the screw lid, to make a home for it, feeding it with the roaches that infest the apartment. Looking at her copy of The Hobbit on her bookshelf, she names the arachnid Sting.

She misses seeing its first kill, as she is unwillingly babysitting her baby brother Liam and attending to him at the moment it strikes. But she sees its second kill, when it has made a thick web on the underside of the lid: the roach runs frantically around the interior base rim of the jar until something flashes down from above and quickly snatches it upward to its doom. “Cool,” she says. When she’s not looking, the lid starts to unscrew…

She’s none too keen on her mum’s new partner Ethan (Ryan Corr) who moved in since her dad left, even though he has been illustrating the comic she wrote. He makes some progress with her when he allows he to draw eyes on his hero’s spectacles, but erases them afterwards, which does not go down too well later when she finds out. He and Charlotte’s mum Heather (Penelope Mitchell) meanwhile, are struggling with the demands of working and parenting, he filling out his income by moonlighting as building superintendent for her miserly aunt Gunter (Robyn Nevin), who owns the block and, after sightings of a pest in the building’s maze of ventilation shafts, hires Frank to fumigate it, but doesn’t want to pay him the full cost of his work.

On a lower floor lives Maria (Silvia Colloca), destined to be one of the spider’s first victims, with her pet dog Bonnie, who she puts out of her front door when it starts barking frantically, And somewhere up above is the crazy Erik (Danny Kim) performing medical experiments. When Charlotte’s dodgy pet is discovered, she’s told to take the arachnid up to him so he can have a look at it: he knows his arachnology, and this is unlike any spider he’s ever come across. (Which is weird, because the design is modelled on the giant redback spider found in Australia.) He asks her to leave Sting with him so he can transfer it to a larger aquarium tank, but as the creature continues to increase in size, we later see this as a bloody mess of broken glass from which something has escaped…

The relationships and interaction between the various apartment block residents and the visiting pest exterminator are nicely worked out and choreographed, both physically and emotionally, and there’s a clever use of the crawlspace ventilation system that runs through the block and allows access between the apartments. The spider was realised with puppetry by Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop, and the results here are more effective on the screen than their hugely disappointing Shelob at the start of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, 2003) because Sting isn’t revealed by lighting, but, at least in its larger size variation towards the end, seen only in the shadows or in brief cuts.

The spider uses its venom to paralyse victims so it can eat them at leisure. Unfortunately, the victims are still alive at that point and can feel themselves being eaten. The sequence in which the spider paralyses Maria then crawls inside her mouth exploits this. Also effective are webs in which the spider cocoons its victims for later consumption when it isn’t hungry.

As Helga miraculously avoids arachnid attack, I found myself wondering whether the spider, knowing she has dementia, leaves her alone as the unwitting lurer of others to their fate at Sting’s hands, but the script has a far more rational reason: her clothes stink of mothballs, which repel Sting. Indeed, once Charlotte realises this, and has made the journey from owner of a cruel pet to spider-hunter and -killer, she arms herself with a water-rifle filled with mothball water.

All of which reads like this doesn’t put a foot wrong. But that’s not the case. It’s severely lacking in the sound effects department, with most of the sound effects located at the front of the viewer, as if the director is unfamiliar with the concept of surround sound and no one in his sound team suggested a lot more could be done in this area. Worse, though, with the unscrewing spider jar lid, it’s never entirely clear whether there is (as one would like to believe) just one spider constantly increasing in size or two, one little one and a much bigger one. This may well be to do with the editing going for pace and suspense at the expense of narrative coherence (which, inevitably, undermines suspense).

That other horror from down under set in an apartment block, Evil Dead Rise (Lee Cronin, 2022), did it all far more effectively. I write this as someone who would far rather see a film about a giant bug terrorising people than evil spirits doing the same; at the end of the day, much as I loved the spider increasing in size and dragging its victims into crawlspaces, I didn’t find this at all scary. When it so easily could and should have been.

Sting gets out into cinemas in the UK on Friday, May 31st.


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