Sting Movie Review

Written by Leo Stefani

Released by Studiocanal

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Written and directed by Kiah Roache-Turner
2024, 92 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on 31st May 2024

Starring:
Jermaine Fowler as Frank
Ryan Corr as Ethan
Alyla Browne as Charlotte
Noni Hazlehurst as Helga
Robyn Nevin as Gunter

Review:

Amidst a snowstorm, a pea-sized meteorite quietly pierces through a New York building’s frozen window, only to pierce then through a second window, that of a dollhouse, and land on a miniature bed. An assumed play on scale, this opening establishes the savvy playfulness that Kiah Roach-Turner attempts to establish throughout the duration of his fourth feature film Sting. Yet, this luring beginning is never equalled as the story is bogged down by a mistaken entanglement of horror and familial tragedy, where both narrative genres are merely associated rather than interconnected. For horror to prompt intimate stories and be imbued with emotional depth, it needs to condition rather than be added onto the tensions – Sting engineers its effects and manufactures its feelings, preventing these latter from organically sprouting.

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When Charlotte (Alyla Brown) finds a small spider in an apartment she broke into thanks to the airducts pervading her building, she stumbles upon what she thinks is that one companion that will end the loneliness she has been forced into since the birth of her little brother. The spider, which she names Sting, becomes her pet, and helps her focus away from the instability of her house. Or at least, that’s what the film attempts to present. In effect, most of the nexus of familial tensions, which are deployed to claim the film as more than the B-movies it references, feel like a calculated set-up. Less real discussions and more dialogues that seemed like a good idea in the script, the connections between the characters have been made to serve an otherwise shallow discourse on the nature of familial bonds and how paternal love manifests itself. But they hardly ever offer an insight into how each character’s evolving psychology might lead to a resolution.

By constantly emphasising how much it wants primarily to explore dysfunctional connections, the film very clearly alludes to a Spielbergian mise-en-scène whereby intimate tragedy is masqueraded as and metaphorized into horror. The film remains extremely playful in the way it positions its camera to maximise surprise. Yet, these movements and scenes, as convincing as they might have been pre-production, only now appear as a succession of crafty ideas. Their allure fades as one quickly realises their connection is artificial at best.

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In this sense, however weird this argument might appear in relation to a horror film, Sting fails to be realistic. Indeed, the specific genre of monstrous horror relies on the conscious, although tacit acknowledgement of the largely unrealistic nature of its plot, but also relies on the what-ifs, the proportionally infinitesimal possibility that it might all actually happen. Where Sting fails is not so much in how plausible its arachnid home-invasion plot stands, but in that its familial drama always interrupts its horror, never intersecting with it until the end when the spider is literally too big to ignore. While this could be argued as a way to show that parents rarely notice their children’s suffering until it can’t be dismissed or denied, the kinds of struggles that Charlotte faces are all treated equally. Ranging from the inconsequential to the potentially devastating, their gradation is nonexistent. This could have made for a strong film about how all struggles appear similar in the eyes of children, but while the film focuses on her, it does not take her point of view.

The storm allows for the plot to happen largely behind closed doors. Effectively, this set up also determines the visual nature of the film, lit by this unchanging glow, confounding all perceptions of time, and therefore meddling with the sense of evolution the story would normally bring in parallel to the monster’s growth. Perhaps it is this lack of evolution that most characterises Sting’s misguided effort: the monster arrives either too early or too late, and the familial tensions it otherwise hopes to navigate find themselves not embedded within the horror, but happening in spite of it.

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Frustratingly, the promise of a prosthetic spider made by the famous New-Zealandian special effects studio WETA, famous for Lord of the Rings’s giant spider Shelob and Bilbo the Hobbit’s Stingers (which Sting unapologetically references), is only half realized. The frustration is not so much a matter of budget as it is one of misconception. Never delving into grotesque spectacle, the film makes the spider a stealthy creature, hardly noticeable until the final moments. By doing so, it never commits to its original setting of Sting being an emotional support pet for Charlotte. It is neither an unsuspected enemy nor visible advocate. It’s not that Sting feels like less than the sum of its parts; Sting feels like a sum, an addition of ideas neither fully realised nor carefully merged, all making for a damp squib.

Grades:

Movie: 2 Star Rating Cover
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