Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Tom Wopat, Kal Weber, Elizabeth Healy, Mark Ramsey, Jessica Reavis, Pisek Intarakanchit, Nicky Tamrong
Directed by Peter Manus
Distributed by Genius Products
The small Southeast Asian island of Ban Tao, already prone to problems with ant swarms, is suddenly having an ant problem like no other. Increasingly aggressive man-eating ants are swarming in greater numbers, overrunning the island, devouring all that get in their way. The local military is usually able to beat them back with flamethrowers and such, but this time the ants are showing signs of intelligence: forming strategies, not falling into traps, setting traps of their own and knowing when to fight and when to retreat. Who do you turn to when lethal swamps of smart bugs have you outmatched?
Forget the Orkin Army; Thorax Industries is #1 against pests. Thorax Industries: a multi-million dollar insect extermination firm with their “Thorax” logo stamped on all their high tech equipment have been called in to deal with this new breed of bug. Decked out in hermetically sealed astronaut suits with specially designed helmets that have “THORAX” written above the visor and a pair of insect antenna painted atop, they’re ready to do battle with any insect or arthropod that threatens mankind thanks to their trusty laser cannons.
That wasn’t a typo. They really do battle swarms of insects with the sort of laser weaponry that even the soldiers in Starship Troopers didn’t have at their disposal. Gives a new meaning to the phrase “bug zapper”, huh?
The Hive is an audacious sci-fi chiller that plays like someone crossed the streams of an “X-Files” plot and the set-up for a mid-1980’s cartoon based on a toyline about a team of high tech insect exterminators. Thorax’s team is composed of the brash young millionaire company founder, a crusty old veteran, a bald and burly black guy and an attractive female computer expert; and they run around in their snazzy jumpsuits with backpacks attached to the laser guns they wield like they’re the Ghostbusters of insect extermination. Had this been a 1980’s cartoon you could have counted on them to all been attired in differently colored jumpsuits each with distinct weapons geared towards their specialty. Better believe all of them would be sporting thematic nicknames like Exterminator, Chitin, Anne Tenna, and I’d bet you a million dollars the leader of the team would have been named something along the lines of Max Thorax. The bugs they battle would have been bigger and led by an evil master bug with a name like Mandibular. Yeah; I could have totally seen this toyline existing when I was a kid – Sectaurs meets Inhumanoids. Ah, those were the days back before Action for Childrens Television ruined children’s’ television forever.
All joking aside, the rather outlandish nature of these bug busters only adds another layer of enjoyment to a genuinely intriguing storyline. There’s clearly an otherworldly presence at work here, evidenced not just by the radical change in the ants behavior, but also by the tentacles (composed of ants) the swarm can form to lash out and even snare people. There’s also the matter of the ants ability to communicate with people by forming symbols. And you really know you got problems with insects when they’ve evolved to the point of holding hostages for ransom.
Is the change in their behavior evolutionary, the result of the overuse of pesticides harmful to the ecosystem, or perhaps the work of something extraterrestrial? The Thorax team leader is so stumped by the ants’ behavior that he calls in his ex-girlfriend, an entomologist constantly touting the untapped intelligence of the insect world. They ultimately broke up because she was all about wanting to communicate with bugs and he was more into their squishing. Fortunately for us viewers, the film doesn’t waste too much time on lovelorn entomologists kissing and making up.
Meanwhile, original “Dukes of Hazzard” co-star Tom Wopat plays the crusty veteran member of the team who somehow remains unaware that an ant has crawled into his ear and hacked into his central nervous system. He doesn’t know why he keeps experiencing strange headaches and even stranger split second visions, but don’t think this puts him under the control of the ants or even makes him more sympathetic to their plight. The exact opposite happens; he’d rather nuke them.
T.J. Cook’s screenplay straddles the fence between smart sci-fi thriller and Saturday morning kookiness. As well made and well intended as The Hive is it cannot be taken too seriously when you got guys zapping ant swarms with proton packs, people yelling lines like “We are not going to negotiate with ants!”, and a finale that involves a giant ant composed of zillions of smaller ants (Mandibular?).
Regardless, The Hive is a creepy crawly comic book creature feature with an “X-Files” twist. Things do flounder a bit during the last half hour, another case of the pay-off not being nearly as interesting as the build-up; and there’s the matter of the usual low budget movie problems with CGI insect swarms looking like lots of blurry CGI blobs composed of tinier blurrier CGI blobs, but that’s forgivable this time around because the ant swarms in this film do more than just swarm.
Give The Hive a shot the next time it pops up on the Sci-Fi Channel or check out the DVD. Better than it has any right to be, it moves along at a brisk pace and takes what could have been a highly formulaic plot and made it smarter and more inventive than the typical Sci-Fi Channel original even if it does sometimes border on ridiculous. Though if you ask me, the ridiculous stuff also helps make this one a pleasant surprise.
3 1/2 out of 5
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