Starring: Tom Arnolds, Sean Astin, Martin Blasick
Written and Directed by: Ron Carlson
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Reviewed by: Dan Oles
Some movies seem like they were more fun to make than to watch.
Dead Ant is an affectionate and sometimes passionate tribute to horror films from many different eras: giant ants from the 1930s (there’s even a cute reference to the most famous giant ant movie Them), 1980s and 90s monster flicks and horror/comedy hybrids like Tremors and Critters, as well as (unfortunately) cheap 2000s era direct-to-DVD movies. It’s this last aspect that prevents the energy and fun the actors were clearly having from directly translating to the audience.
There’s some great performances and fun characters wrapped in an amusingly cheesy premise. A washed up rock band travels to the desert to find inspiration for a music festival using peyote. Also there are giant ants. Those two aspects of the film are just as disjointed as they sound even if the film seldom takes itself seriously.
It still feels sometimes that two script concepts were mashed together, one a road trip film about drug-addled rockers and groupies and the other a budget-conscious homage to horror movies about giant creatures. Honestly using unconventional characters in a conventional horror film is an experiment I’d like to see more often. Apart from some stereotypical valley girls (and Sean Astin’s amusing cameo as a typical stoner character) most of the other characters have some kind of quirky touch. The band’s producer falls in and out of love with his group (and probably has a record), the frontman’s visions of authenticity are not supported by his adolescent mind, the lead bassist is struggling to be an awesome rock god while in his forties…it’s all fertile ground for some creative interactions and amusingly observant jokes.
And, as if in order to placate either a distributor, a certain kind of fan, or as yet another over-the-top parody of the genre there is full frontal nudity about ten minutes into the movie. Between this and a number of crazy set pieces the focus of Dead Ant seems fully on entertainment.
What lets it down is the cheap looking special effects. As a producer myself I realize how expensive ‘cheap’ effects can be, but Dead Ant is done no favors by a majority of its creatures and gore and explosions looking to be straight from a commonly available digital effects library. If you watch enough modern horror films especially you start noticing repeated blood splatter animations, fire animations, and given how well the giant ants move (not well) it’s fair to claim these were adapted or pulled together from existing rendered assets that were not rigged to move quickly. Actually given how good some ants look and how terrible others do there might have been multiple effects studios involved.
The problem is that cheesy or cheap practical effects have a certain charm that equally frugal CGI lacks. When there’s puppets or squibs or even stop motion involved there’s an impression of effort and time spent to realize a set piece, even if it’s not always effective. Computer animation is so prevalent however most viewers have seen behind the curtain and know how (comparatively) simple it is to drag, drop, resize and program a digital event. There’s no real wonder about how the trick was done, and even less when the seams show thanks to bad textures, poor integration, or just situations where characters are supposedly surrounded or actively being attacked and since the effects work only features in some shots there are no ants to be seen anywhere.
Dead Ant tries it’s hardest with what it has and no character gives anything less than their all. The unimpressive effects alone are what let down what could have been a classic. You can see it as a fun character piece, a parody, or a late night movie to riff with friends, but you are unlikely to get the slightest bit of horror without a lot of dedication to ignoring the bulk of the creatures and effects…and for a movie about (and probably aimed somewhat at) stoners, this might be a lot to ask.
In Theaters, On Demand & Digital HD on January 25th, 2019
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