Black Swarm (DVD)

Black Swarm on DVD (click for larger image)Reviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Robert Englund, Sebastian Roberts, Sarah Allen, Rebecca Windhelm, Jayne Heitmeyer, Sheena Larkin

Directed by David Winning

Distributed by Genius Products, LLC.

Unlike your typical mad scientist in a Sci-Fi Channel original movie who has tampered with insect kind in the name of battlefield readiness, Robert Englund’s Dr. Eli knows he did wrong when he messed with the wasp’s genome a decade earlier and has been on the lam from the military industrial complex with his swarm of weaponized wasps ever since desperately trying to “put the toothpaste back in the tube”. He does not, however, seem overly concerned that some of his wasps are out and about stinging certain members of the local populace, essentially turning those people into wasp incubators who shuffle about like barely lucid zombies acting under the control of the wasps’ collective hive mind, “drones” as he calls them. Then again, despite their odd behavior and multiple sting welts on their face and body, nobody else in town seems to notice them either; guess it really isn’t that big a deal after all.

Nine years earlier, exterminator Devin Hall’s exterminator twin brother was killed in a freak wasp nest accident – possibly the first time in recorded history the phrase “freak wasp nest accident” has ever been used. What made it so freakish? Well, when you go to torch a wasp nest in a tree and it explodes on you, I’d say “freak wasp nest accident” is a perfectly apt description. This was the first incident involving Dr. Eli’s super wasps getting out.

Nine years later, it’s Devin’s last day in town. He’s ready to forgo the family’s exterminator business for a new life anywhere but Black Stone. This very same day sees the return of his brother’s widow, Jane, now the Deputy Sheriff, and his young niece, Kelsey. Jane also happened to be his ex-girlfriend before she married his twin brother so you better believe they’re going to end up back together sooner rather than later. Since Kelsey was never even told she had an uncle, the first time she sees Uncle Devin she thinks he’s the ghost of her dad. Expect a third act revelation about the little girl that should induce a multitude of groans from all watching.

Black Swarm reviewKelsey quickly befriends the quirky Dr. Eli as he stands around outside blowing his wasp whistle. Kelsey also keeps encountering the human drones around town leading her to ask mom why everyone in Black Stone is so weird. Mom laughs it off, completely oblivious to these welt-covered weirdos like everyone else in town seems to be. One quibble I had: Kelsey comes across an inquisitive girl, but not particularly mischievous, which is why I found it hard to believe she’d suddenly decide to commit a little unlawful entry into Eli’s trailer and go snooping around his top secret, underground, wasp research laboratory.

Devin’s escape from Black Stone that day doesn’t go as planned when a young man is stung to death in the basement of one of those all-seeing blind lady types, the kind that’s more handi-capable than handicapped. Already on the scene to perform the autopsy is a sexy entomologist with a secret. Devin’s windshield then gets cracked by a breed of wasp with a large stinger he can’t immediately identify. Then that dead guy’s body gets up off the slab in the morgue and kills a guy. As the attractive, older, insect specialist puts it, “Disappearing stinging victims, weird wasps, and murder most foul; I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Though nothing special, Black Swarm is an above average effort from the Sci-Fi Channel that never insults your intelligence even though it does have its fair share of logic gaps. The fast-paced flick flies by, although it does begin to lose its way a bit story-wise during the second half when the initial intrigue leads to more formulaic action. It’s at its worst when dealing with the Devin-Jane-Kelsey relationship or when a blind woman stomps about a cornfield looking for Kelsey. Definitely not your typical killer insect film; the story plays more like a lightweight “X-Files” tale than a straightforward horror film about mutant bugs on the rampage.

It’s also much better acted than many a film of this pedigree, particularly Robert Englund and Rebecca Windheim as young Kelsey. Englund turns in a folksy performance as Dr. Eli, though maybe a bit too grandfatherly in his scenes with Kelsey and rather nonchalant about most of the fatal wasp incidents. Nice to see Englund in a role where he’s allowed to do something other than just play horror icon Robert Englund cast in a horror film. He has some really nice scenes with Kelsey. The young actress is also up to the task of making her seem more like a real girl than your typical annoyingly precocious movie kid.

So here we have a surprisingly well made movie that Sci-fi dumped onto a Sunday night when no one would see it. Way to go! Hopefully it will fare better on DVD!

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    3 1/2 out of 5

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