Infestation (2009)

Writer/director Kyle Rankin describes Infestation (2009) as a zombie movie using bugs. If you take your lesser zombie and/or bug movies seriously, note that this review contains SPOILERS. For example, the following sentences might spoil your sense of location in the movie: Rankin wanted to set the movie in Anywhere, U.S.A. However, at one point he was required to specify which state the license plates in the movie should represent. He chose Colorado because the office park they were using for the shoot reminded him of Colorado Springs. However, the movie was shot, start to finish, in Sofia, Bulgaria. If you know this going in, perhaps you will find yourself thinking, hmm, Americans in Bulgaria – hope they’re enjoying the foreign experience. Or your eye might stray from the foreground to the landscape, as your inner tourist takes control during some moment of overlong exposition. Someone told Rankin in advance that there would be bad food but beautiful women, which seemed like an ok tradeoff to him (he hooked up with a woman but also focused on the local gustatory delicacies, such as they were). He then checked Wikipedia to ascertain where Sofia, and in fact, Bulgaria, was. I myself know two Bulgarian women, offhand. One beautiful, the other a good mother.

Making movies in Bulgaria to save money may be tapering off, but I haven’t checked to confirm. Bulgaria joined the European Union at the start of 2007, but the Lev won’t be replaced by the Euro sooner than 2013, so the favorable Lev/Dollar exchange rate remains. As someone observed, however, your movie-making in Bulgaria should feature cheap, because everything in the country is cheap. I heard somewhere that many production teams are moving to South Africa now, another inexpensive place to film.

I know these things about Bulgaria and Rankin in Bulgaria because I elected to watch Infestation with his commentary turned on (which also means, with the dialog 99% inaudible). This is the first time, if my memory serves, that I’ve watched a movie with the commentary track turned on first, from the beginning. It’s a strange experience. You see but don’t hear the movie. Conflict between bug and human is manifest; the more important conflict between human and human is absent. Also, this is a horror comedy, with most of the humor in the dialog (assuming that it’s there at all). Thus, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW UNLESS I GO BACK AND LISTEN TO INFESTATION. Will I do that? Don’t know yet. First must finish watching the commentary. Rankin recorded it in 2008, so it’s not exactly au courant (the movie was shot summer of 2007 and went on the festival road). I’ve got to take this review thing a little seriously here, because more than one list maker has included Infestation as one of their top 10 horror films of 2009.

One bit of plot explanation, if you plan to watch the movie. The bugs wrap up the humans and then inject something into their jugulars. (How the bugs see through the cocoon to do that accurately, I don’t know.) But in the hero’s case, the bug is distracted at the crucial moment and injects the whatever through the hero’s cheek into his mouth instead of into the vein. Therefore the hero can bust out of the cocoon and run around busting others out. How come they can wake up too, if they’ve been jugulared? Wait… You can’t think about stuff like that in a  B- or C-level bug movie. Listening to the commentary, you realize how much of what you’re watching depends upon how the film was cut, how much time the crew had while shooting any given scene, the impact that a moose head falling off the wall accidentally can have, so forth. The movie is loaded with ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement or Additional Dialogue Recording, also known as dubbing or looping).

Movie notes:

– If you’re going to put boobs… nah, I’m not going to go there. Except to say that the one terrible mistake, for me, in the masterpiece that is Mulholland Drive (2001), is the bad boob job. Please don’t take me out of the movie just because Dr. Plastic Hollywood over there in Woodland Hills couldn’t do his job right.

– Linda Park is not Grace Park.

– Small bugs are scary, as in Splinter (2008). Big bugs are goofy.

– Rankin was the casting director for Reindeer Games. Since then, he has made eight movies (long and short), this one in association with Icon, which is Mel Gibson’s company. Do what you want with the bugs, but don’t bug Mel!

– It took them 7 weeks to build the bug nest. They blew up a miniature of it in Topanga, behind Rankin’s house.

– Screenplay called for a box of animal cookies on the shelf. The hero opens the cupboard and there they are, provided by the Bulgarian crew, biscuits for a cat.

Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea, listening to the commentary first. But no, it was fun.

I did watch the movie, finally. It was pretty good. Lively.  The bugs were ok, excepting the usual amount of pure nonsense so often present in these movies. Sure, it was Bulgaria, but a bug’s a bug. There were some excellent action effects. Rankin writes pretty good – writes better comic dialog than I ever could. Chris Marquette is a funny guy. I smiled a lot. Most importantly, I cared about the characters.