‘Infested’ Fantastic Fest 2023 Review: An Arachnophobe’s Worst Nightmare 


Everyone’s favorite eight-legged friends have been terrifying humans for millennia. So of course they’re perfect fodder for horror films. Some horror classics like Arachnophobia and Eight-Legged Freaks use progressively bigger spiders to create creepy creature features that are both terrifying and funny. Others just use the occasional spider for a jumpscare or to up the proverbial ante. But, in the upcoming arachno-horror Infested, which recently screened at Fantastic Fest, director Sébastien Franciek opts for a unique route where spiders of all sizes take over, but there aren’t many laughs to be had in a film that will make even the biggest spider defender shudder in fear. Between amazing creature effects and a story that cares about its characters, Franciek creates the best spider horror film in recent memory.

Kaleb (Théo Christine) lives in a massive apartment building in the projects of a French suburb with his sister (Lisa Nyarko). But, since the death of their mother, their relationship has been strained. To cope, Kaleb collects exotic reptiles and bugs, hoping to one day open his own zoo to show the world these strange and amazing creatures. But of course, with being a collector comes purchasing strange specimens, and Kaleb does just that with a venomous spider from his local exotic animal dealer. Sure, the guy doesn’t know anything about the spider, but who cares? It can’t be that dangerous, right?

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Wrong! When the spider quickly escapes from the confine of a shoebox and lays a sac of eggs, all hell breaks loose as they quickly take over the apartment building, consuming residents along the way. Their bites cause an almost immediate reaction and boy can they procreate fast. Kaleb, his sister, his estranged best friend Jordy, Jordy’s girl, and a neighbor try to find their way out of the building while fighting aggressive spiders and sticky webs. But, to add insult to injury, the government quarantines the building due to just how deadly these spiders are. The group must work through their interpersonal issues to survive and escape this spider-filled hellhole. 

Those interpersonal issues are a major part of why Infested works. The script by Vanicek and Florent Bernard doesn’t solely focus on arachnid-based scares and deaths, but actually takes the time to get you invested in these characters. They also don’t spend too much time with them. An apartment-wide going away party at the film’s start helps establish the group’s dynamics as well as the camaraderie between them all. These characters are more than neighbors; they’re family. That makes what happens throughout the film all the more tragic.

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Christine’s turn as Kaleb is particularly strong, delivering a heartbreaking performance as a man trying to figure out his place in the world. He so desperately wants control over something, and yet at every turn, any sense of autonomy is ripped away. Christine captures this emotional turmoil and makes you really feel with Kaleb as he continues to confront the violent results of his mistake. This isn’t a fun spider movie, but one that really wants to punch you in the heart while hundreds of hairy legs skitter over your flesh.

Then of course there are the spiders and they are scary. Their smallest form looks similar to a brown recluse, with long skinny legs and a hairy body. But then they start to grow. Importantly, their size never becomes a joke or something vaguely whimsical. Rendered with CGI instead of puppetry, there’s always a risk of these spiders looking cheesy. However, the effects work here make the unnaturally sized arachnids still feel like part of the world—they aren’t distracting enough to ruin tension or the fear factor. And famously, Infested also uses plenty of real spiders as part of the film’s terrifying horde. But again, thanks to some incredible effects work, you can’t usually tell the difference. So much care was poured into making this movie Scary without a capital S. This isn’t a horror comedy. Nothing about these spiders is funny and Vanciek never lets you forget it.

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The script is unrelenting and tense, never letting the viewer breathe once the spider escapes. However, in the name of a fast-paced horror, we do lose some understanding of the “rules” of the spider. Yes, it’s framed as if we are learning about the spiders’ abilities alongside Kaleb and the rest of the group, but that part of the narrative could be tightened to better convey just how intense the stakes are. Janicek instead trusts us a bit too much to put the pieces together. Plus, the break-neck pace doesn’t let you linger too long on these details, shoving another spider in your face to erase any other questions. It’s a clever mechanism, if purposeful, I will give them them that.

Infested is [REC]—not in style but in story—meets Attack The Block covered in just an ungodly amount of spiders. Vanicek strikes a delicate balance between scares and humanity, which results in what will go down as one of the best creature features of the 21st century. It’s familiar yet new, terrifying yet heart-breaking. Not all of its emotional beats land, but unrelenting tension makes up for any awkward interactions that don’t quite gel with the tone. Vanicek is really showing the world what he’s capable of and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Infested comes to Shudder in 2024.



With amazing creature effects and a story that cares about its characters, ‘Infested’ is the best spider horror film in recent memory.



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