Monday, January 11, 2010

Film Review: KING OF THE ANTS (2003, Stuart Gordon)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Chris McKenna (ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL), George Wendt (CHEERS, HOUSE), Kari Wuhrer (ANACONDA, THINNER), Ian Patrick Williams (cast as Alvar Hanso for TV's LOST), Daniel Baldwin (BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY, VAMPIRES), Lionel Mark Smith (EDMOND, SPARTAN), Ron Livingston (OFFICE SPACE, BAND OF BROTHERS), Vernon Wells (COMMANDO, THE ROAD WARRIOR).
Tag-line: "From the director of RE-ANIMATOR..."
Best one-liner: "You know, it's really, really scary what a single blow to the head can do..."
Obligatory side note: This is not a zany creature-feature involving killer ants.

Sometime around the turn of the 21st Century, Stuart Gordon adjusted his filmic focus from viscera-heavy, ludicrous horror flicks (RE-ANIMATOR, DOLLS) to uncomfortable, darkly comedic tales of the marginalized (STUCK, EDMOND). But in a way, this doesn't mark a departure at all- it's a return to his late 1960's (theatrical) roots where, for example, he presided over an excruciating 'theater of pain' style game show and was arrested (on obscenity charges) for his Vietnam-infused production of PETER PAN. And so he's begun telling the unpleasant stories of people who are enslaved by their unbridled, primordial urges and their lack of privileges alike.

And then, to top it off (á la his alienating stage work), he inserts senseless gore, fecal matter, and some 'chicks with dicks' insectoid dream sequences, just to make sure he's pared his audience down to the most committed and misanthropic.

KING OF THE ANTS is a wee bit nihilistic, but it's a nihilism that involves a crazed, obese George Wendt chasing you while wearing a floppy polo shirt and cargo shorts.

It's the kind of cynicism capable of perfectly casting a fourth-tier Baldwin brother (Daniel- who's actually somewhat underrated). It's a horror film for the prefab construction culture of blahdy-blah, kitchen-renovating suburban America. We begin to see bodily transformations that, on the surface, perhaps resemble Lovecraftian pineal glands gone wild (like in FROM BEYOND), but they're not born of a fantastical mirror-world:

FROM BEYOND to...

...your very own backyard (KING OF THE ANTS).

Instead, they're from being battered in the head with a ball bat in a shed by a man wearing a 'God Bless America' t-shirt. Gordon's saying that we don't need otherworldly escapism to experience these terrors- just peer into a tinted-window'd van or just beyond the picket fence, and you'll probably do just fine.

Quotidian terrors in a prefab shed.

There is no pleasure in the body count- it's a series of repugnant, selfish people perpetrating foul, idiotic deeds. Mean-spirited, jaundiced entertainment. Also see: David Lynch's DUMBLAND. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

4 comments:

GuyR said...

Yeah, I like this one a lot too. Intense Shit.

And pardon me for pointing that out, but you omitted to mention that Vernon Wells is in it. Plus he bears a name pretty close to the one he had in Commando (Beckett/Bennett).

Sean Gill said...

Heh, I apologize for the oversight regarding Vernon "I DON'T NEED NO GUN! AND I'LL KILL YOU NOW!" Wells. It has been corrected.

Lord Horror said...

May I recommend the Aussie film SNOWTOWN. A perfect what-goes-on-behind-closed-doors He'll Ride. Also, Daniel Baldwin is definitely underrated. Awesome in Trees Lounge.

Sean Gill said...

Lord Horror,

Thanks for stoppin' by! I'll have to check out SNOWTOWN.