Sting review | A killer spider horror that never quite finds its eight feet

spider review
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A killer spider terrorises a New York apartment building in a tonally messy horror with some great creature effects. Our review of Sting:

Odd name for a killer spider movie, Sting. For that we can thank Tolkien-loving 12 year-old Charlotte (Alyla Browne) who chooses it as the nickname for the arachnid she finds scuttling around her dimly-lit New York apartment building. Sweeping the critter into a jar and intent on keeping it as a pet, Charlotte is blissfully unaware that Sting is capable of escaping from its glass prison and, as it dines on other living things roaming around the building, will soon grow to a frightening size.

Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Kiah Roache-Turner (Wyrmwood, Nekrotronic), Sting is an eclectic mash-up of styles and influences. Its snowbound apartment setting, every floor filled with eccentrics, immediately recalls Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s Delicatessen. Roache-Turner seems to relish in the little dramas going on in each apartment, which we regularly glimpse as Charlotte sneaks through the building’s conveniently human-sized ventilation system.

Among the residents you’ll find a grieving, alcoholic widow (Silvia Colloca) and her pet chihuahua; a distinctly sinister zoologist loner named Erik (Danny Kim), and Charlotte’s miserly aunt Helga (Noni Hazlehurst), the landlord who owns the dilapidated building. These and other oddballs are among the potential victims for the deadly spider; but as it grows, thanks to Charlotte’s regular supply of cockroaches, the plot focuses increasingly on the tensions between its protagonist’s family.

It’s here that Sting loses its focus somewhat. There are one or two gleefully nasty deaths that suggest we’re in for something as blackly comic and wayward as an early Peter Jackson horror. But these give way to lengthy scenes of earnest familial drama that feel closer to an Amblin film. Then the snowy setting, and the increasingly edgy behaviour of Charlotte’s stepfather, Ethan (Ryan Corr) suggest things might take a turn for The Shining. Then there’s more family drama, then more horror, with a side helping of Alien and The Terminator.

As Sting shifts awkwardly between tones, the glue that holds everything together is its impressive production design and some terrific creature effects courtesy of Weta, many of which were achieved practically. With its unnerving intelligence and habit of spiriting its victims away through vents, the spider’s a superbly-realised beast, and there are moments of genuine menace in Sting. Similarly, while the setting never really passes for an authentic Manhattan location – the movie was shot in Australia – Roache-Turner and his collaborators create a grimy little world that works according to its own dream logic.

Less consistent are the volume levels of its performances. At one end we have Ayla Browne, who’s a natural, likeable lead, saddled though she is with the usual ‘Urgh! Fine!’ lines screenwriters tend to give to characters her age. At the other there’s Jermaine Fowler as pest controller Frank, who’s funny but so shriekingly loud that his character feels like something from another film. Similarly, the glowering Helga has the caricaturish air of a Roald Dahl villain; one character even describes her as being like something out of The Addams Family.

Messy and awkward though it sometimes is, Sting is still stylishly designed and quite unsettling in its best moments. As it is, it’s an enjoyable throwback to an era of 1950s creature features (or that second wave of monster flicks we got in the 1990s); had it leaned more on the gore and mayhem, and less on the sentimental drama, Sting could have been an immediate cult classic.

Sting is out in UK cinemas on the 31st May.

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