top of page


Sting (15)

Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Screenplay: Kiah Roache-Turner

Starring: Jermaine Fowler, Ryan Corr, Alyla Browne

Running time: 92 minutes

Cinema release

Review: David Stephens

Arachnophobes beware! Spider-horror is back in vogue again. Apparently. Coming, as this does (in the UK at least), just a few weeks after “Infested” premiered on Shudder, it looks like arachnids are ripe for reinvention in fear flicks. This is after a long stint as pantomime villains in the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises. In fact, the title itself comes from Tolkien’s The Hobbit, where it shares the name with Bilbo Baggin’s elven sword that becomes known as “The Spider’s Bane”. But enough of that. These human-hating herberts were everywhere once, especially in 80s exploitation and later in the 90s favourite “Arachnophobia”. According to Wiki (so it must be true!), over 6% of the global population has a morbid fear of these mudders. And if a film can convey the scuttling alien-ness of a spider, it’s pretty much a scary winner. This is the first film directed by Kiah Roache-Turner to be set in the United States as opposed to his native Australia, where he is best known for the wacky Wyrmwood zombie apocalypse movies. It was shot in Australia (doubling for New York in an ice storm) and opened in the US in April to some decent reviews. Starring Alyis Browne (still being seen as a young version of Furiosa in the same-named film) and Ryan Corr (Wolf Creek 2), it’s now creeping across cinema screens all over the UK.


After a brief flash-forward of 4 days, with something big and deadly in the walls of an apartment block, we get a minimal origin story for the spider. It’s an alien. Birthed from a tiny egg that splinters off from a disintegrating asteroid, young Charlotte (a very good Browne) encounters the seemingly intelligent little critter as she snoops around her aunt’s apartment, and she calls it Sting. The feisty 12-year-old lives with her mom (Penelope Mitchell as Heather) and tries-too-hard Stepdad (Corr as Ethan) in the family-run building. It’s falling apart because the owning landlord and aunt (Robyn Nevin as Gunter) is too mean and nasty to spend any money on it. Meanwhile, Ethan doubles as the handyman and draws comics in the evenings, whilst Charlotte does a “Newt” and scampers around in the air ducts to stave off boredom and peep on neighbours. Somewhat complacent about the fact that Sting can whistle and scoff cockroaches twice its size, Charlotte bonds with the arachnid and keeps the spider in a jar whilst feeding it. Not a good idea, as pets then people start to meet nasty ends, and Sting gets bigger. Much bigger.  


To all intents and purposes, Sting really does feel like a throwback feature from the 80s. It takes place entirely within the confines of the tenement building, complete with a collection of slightly wacky characters such as; an alcoholic Italian woman, the overbearing senior landlady, a would-be genetic scientist who studies fish guts, and a sweary exterminator. From that perspective, it’s a bit like “Batteries Not Included” or (perhaps more appropriately) Critters 3. But it might as well be the Nostromo double-parked in Brooklyn for all the comparisons that can be made with Alien/Aliens. The air ducts are integral to Sting’s (and Charlotte’s) movement, the egg splits open like a face-hugger is going to appear, slime is left in trails, and victims are cocooned for easy snacking. Watch out for other 80s horror callbacks as well. “If it's bleeding, we can kill it”, etc, etc.


The SFX are a nice blend of puppetry and CG, with the extraterrestrial origins of Sting allowing it to have a toothy mouth rather than just mandibles. There’s also the fact that it chirrups and squeaks, mimicking not only Charlotte’s whistles and ringtones but also other animal noises (and a baby’s cry in one effective scene). Incidentally, why do filmmakers feel the need to make big spiders do that? Eight Legged Freaks did the same thing. As one character says; “Spiders do not have vocal chords”. It’s an alien thing, but why make it sound like Gizmo from Gremlins? Pedantry aside, there are some cool moments regarding the larger incarnation of Sting. Rushing through air ducts, jumping out from nowhere, and silently descending from the ceiling to snatch an infant. It’s not afraid to get really dark at times as well. Perhaps the most disturbing moment (glimpsed in the trailer) is when a still-growing Sting paralyses an adult and slowly creeps into their open mouth, before eviscerating them from the inside out! Nastee! The graphic and merciless deaths of several of the cast generally leads you to believe that anyone can cop it at any time.


So it’s kind of refreshing that the characters of Charlotte and her family are fleshed out to some extent. Ethan actually undergoes something of an understandable mental breakdown that approaches violence, which is genuinely tense and highlights the tribulations of step-parenting. Charlotte has an entirely believable relationship with him, hero-worshipping him at times, whilst also hating his attempts to replace her biological father. Quite atypical writing for a giant spider story! If truth be told, as good as it is, there is perhaps a little too much time spent on family politics rather than spider carnage. Still, it makes you genuinely root for the lead characters come the chaotic conclusion. Nobody likes to see a baby in the corner… all covered in webbing and about to be eaten.


The film tries for a goofball mixture of horror and humour, a bit like Arachnophobia, only with much more gore and f-bombs. This does work on most occasions. On seeing a dead, dehydrated, and de-feathered pet parrot, one character quips that “It looks like it tried to have sex with a blender”. When Ethan first encounters Sting, it results in a fine piece of f-bombing that will go down a storm with large Friday night audiences. Sometimes the tonal swerves just don’t quite land though, the comical swearing of Frank the Exterminator is out of place when people are dying, and beloved characters are threatened. There’s also the issue of Heather’s mother (Noni Hazelhurst as Helga) and her dementia, where she no longer recognises her family and forgets things that happened a minute ago. The story does not make light of her or her condition, but it does use the circumstances to have people lured to their deaths and catalyse some comedy situations. It’s not disrespectful. But it just feels a bit needless, dated, and … well, “off” to some extent. 


As far as plot progression goes, there really aren’t any great surprises. It all plays out pretty much as you would expect it, or as any monster movie would. There are loads of obvious “Chekhov’s Guns” in the narrative; ice storm causing communication blackouts, an emphasis on mothballs, and the (*sigh*) chestnut of the old unreliable trash compactor. There are also massive plot holes as well. We can just about understand how Sting can unscrew the lid of its jam jar to go hunting without alerting Charlotte to its shenanigans, but how in the merry name of Hades does it get the lid back on again after returning from kills? Of course, it’s a fun bit of whimsy that’s not supposed to be taken seriously, and as long as you approach it in that manner, you’ll get more enjoyment out of it. A little bit more innovation would have been nice though. Also, points deducted for the painfully predictable twist at the end, and for calling the lead character “Charlotte” (Charlotte’s Web. Geddit?). With all that in mind, it's very likely that you won’t be bowled over or surprised, but you will be entertained, especially if you’re a lover of old-fashioned creature features. Does exactly what it says on the (s)tin(g).

It’s good fun with some well-judged moments of creepiness and it’s nice to see some effort being made to flesh out the lead characters. Having said that, it’s mostly unsurprising and the tonal shifts between darkness and humour don’t always work. Still, it’s a decent throwback creature feature, best enjoyed with a rolled-up newspaper.
bottom of page