L Movie Review 2“Seriously misunderstood creatures, spiders are,” declares Rubeus Hagrid in the film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Hagrid is mourning Aragog, the enormous talking spider that terrified Ron Weasley and was thought sweetly benign by Hagrid. Benign and misunderstood are words that will never be applied to the spider that descends from space to maraud through a New York brownstone in Sting, a terrific new horror movie from Australian writer/director Kiah Roache-Turner.

First off, it should be said that Sting boasts a fabulous opening title sequence. There’s an asteroid shower, see, passing dangerously close to Earth, dangerously close to Brooklyn, to be exact, and as it does, out shoots a tiny Fabergé-esque egg that blasts through an apartment window. The extraterrestrial lands inside a dollhouse, which is actually a model of the pre-war Brooklyn apartment building where the film will take place. A sleek, eager black spider hatches from the egg and begins scurrying about the walls and ceilings of the elegantly decorated model rooms, before setting down on a lovely miniature baby crib. The camera then pulls back to the apartment holding the model, and the movie begins.

The arachnid, which is small (but not for long), dashes onto the hand of 12-year-old Charlotte (Alyla Browne), who’s entered this particular apartment (the landlord’s) via the building’s wide air duct, along which she scurries, unseen by her neighbors, much like her new friend. Charlotte is a bit of a spy. Her route back to the apartment that she shares with her mother, stepfather, and new baby brother gives Roache-Turner a chance to offer a quick glimpse, via air vents, of the other neighbors, an approach at once utilitarian and stylish. Back in her room, Charlotte puts the spider in a jar, feeds it a roach, and is astonished when it kills in a blur of motion. “Cool” she says. She clearly has never seen Alien.

A graphic novel written by Charlotte and illustrated by her stepfather, Ethan (Ryan Corr), has become a bestseller. Ethan is missing deadlines on his solo followup, and, increasingly stressed, may be stealing ideas from his precocious stepdaughter. Sting, which is also the name Charlotte has given to her new eight-legged buddy, devotes a good bit of time to the dynamics between Ethan and Charlotte and her efforts to blame him for the hard fact that her real father never comes round. This familial angst may feel like filler to some, but Corr and Browne give it an emotionality that pays off in the final showdown with Sting.

For quite a while, the filmmakers suggest the spider more than they show it. In the night, as Charlotte sleeps, the top of the jar turns and, in a lovely touch, cinematographer Brad Shield captures the reflection of the spider’s escape in the moonlight shining against Charlotte’s cheek. Sting gets its first kill (a pet parrot) in the apartment upstairs, prompting a call to Frank the Exterminator (a funny Jermaine Fowler), who dresses and talks like a Ghostbuster but knows his bugs.

The spider can whistle and mimic other sounds Charlotte makes, but nothing much comes of this trick. No matter. The scene where it crawls down the robe of a grieving mother who lives alone (Silvia Colloca) and then crawls into her mouth is hide-your-eyes yucky, but too brief maybe. Sting could use more gore-fest intensity. Nonetheless, Roache-Turner stages some fun gotcha moments, including a scene where the spider, now officially a movie monster, finally reveals itself to Charlotte’s parents, and to us.

Sting might be only a low-budge spider movie, but it looks great. The apartment house, designed by Fiona Donovon, is ancient and dark, but the rooms are enviably big, and dressed with details keyed to character. It’s nice too that the spider isn’t a CGI effect but an admirably tactile mix of 3D mechanics and puppetry. In this devotion to detail and old-school practical effects, there’s a sense of joy in the telling, and in a talented young director worthy of a bigger playing field.   ❖

Chuck Wilson is a Los Angeles–based writer who has written for the L.A. Weekly for over 25 years and has been a longtime contributor to the Village Voice.

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