Screamfest 2017: Dead Ant FILM REVIEW
Director: Ron Carlson
Screenplay by Ron Carlson
Story by Hank Braxton, Ron Carlson, Dan Sinclair
Starring: Tom Arnold, Sean Astin, Jake Busey, Ryhs Coiro, Leisha Hailey, Cameron Richardson, Danny Woodburn, Michael Horse, Sydney Sweeney, Joi Liaye
Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
*** out of *****
Photo: August Heart Entertainment
Members of the glam-metal band "Sonic-Grave" soon discover their attempt at a comeback has run into a roadblock of epic proportions.
Back in the 1950s giant insects on a rampage were a huge draw at movie theatres. Primarily in response to the dangers of the atomic age these endearing B-movies provided great escapist fare which thrilled audiences and perhaps elicited groans as well. THEM (1954), TARANTULA (1955), THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957), MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL (1958) are just some of the films that came out of that era and for those of us growing up in the '70s and '80s we watched them on TV on a Saturday afternoon. The sub-genre was rather dormant in the 1960s but sort of made a comeback in the 1970s with schlocky films like THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975), EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977) and THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976). Now in the 21st century giant insects primarily appear in low budget, z-grade, SyFy Channel level features which really play up the absurdity of it all for laughs but really make little effort to emulate the seriousness of the "classic" creature features of that bygone era of the '50s. Writer/Director Ron Carlson finds a happy medium with his film DEAD ANT which stands head and thorax above its 21st century brethren.
In the film a "one-hit-wonder" glam-metal band ventures out to the desert for peyote induced inspiration. Prior to embarking on their mind-altering trip they are given specific instructions to follow which are of course not heeded and madness ensues as a result. They soon find themselves under attack by giant black ants which grow progressively larger and larger. With a hook like that this could have easily been played totally straight but Carlson opted for a sci-fi/comedy hybrid and more often than not it works.
Carlson has gathered a number of genre veterans to bring life to his bug movie. Jake Busey is great as Merrick, the band's lead singer. He's quite funny and entertaining as a rocker who just wants to go back to the glory days and belt out those long power ballad notes. Rhys Coiro is Pager, lead guitarist and lyricist. He's quite convincing as a seemingly washed up rocker who wants to stay relevant while still having an eye for the ladies, especially the young ones. Sean Astin also stars as Art who in many ways is the band's roadie and facilitator. Astin is rather funny and is called upon to provide the most intensive performance of the acting ensemble; you'll have to see the film to know why. Leisha Hailey stars as Stevie the band's drummer. In this predominately male ensemble it's her character who understands the situation and what's causing it; unlike her metal head brothers. She does a find job of not only playing the brains in the outfit but the den mother and rocker chick, as well. The film's MVP is none other than Tom Arnold as their put-upon manager Danny. His dead pan reactions and throwaway lines draw the most laughs in the film. Michael Horse and Danny Woodburn humorously portray an unlikely pair of peyote dealers in the middle of the desert. The film also stars Sydney Sweeney and Joi Liaye as a pair of girls Pager meets on their journey to the middle of nowhere.
Unlike many low-budget sci-fi creature features of late this film's lead characters are actually well-written and engaging. Sure the performances may miss the mark on occasion, most during some scenes where they are under attack, but overall it is better performed than most films of its ilk. You can't help but root for these underdogs because they are a likable bunch and no one really seems like mere cannon fodder; well the two young girls do but you kind of knew that's what they were. The one thing that could have derailed this picture would be the visual effects. All things considered, for a low-budget film the effects are quite good. Even if the effects were the weakest link the story and characters certainly help viewers to overlook this issue.
Ron Carlson's creature feature throwback reminds you of what was fun about those classic black and white films of the '50s and injects an '80s sensibility with 21st century nostalgia and technology. One can only imagine how much more epic the film would have been if they had a bigger visual effects budget. As is, the film is far more entertaining than just about any ultra low-budget SyFy/Asylum film you may happen to find. Carlson finds a good balance between the films of the '50s and the present by having the film play seriously but inject it with plenty of humor which doesn't treat the material like a joke or breaks the fourth wall. Far from perfect but certainly nowhere near being a bad film this proves to be an entertaining film worthy of a TV viewing on a Saturday afternoon. Just remember to bring the Raid and set the ant traps.
***** = Outstanding ****1/2 = Excellent **** = Very Good ***1/2 = Above Average
*** = Good **1/2 = Mediocre ** = Fair *1/2 = Poor * = Bad 1/2* = Abysmal