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‘Sting’ Review: A Giant Spider Grows in Brooklyn in a Knowingly Cheeseball Indie Horror Trifle


In “Sting,” a giant-spider-grows-in-Brooklyn thriller that’s cheeky, bloody, and (most important) very gooey, Sting is the name given by Charlotte (Alyla Browne), a precocious tween, to the elegant two-inch-long black spider that becomes her pet (she keeps it in a jar and feeds it bugs). Yet given how much slaughter is caused by this omnivorous arachnid, which grows bigger and bigger with each feeding, the moniker turns out to be a major understatement. It’s as if Jason Vorhees were named “Paper Cut.”

“Sting” is a wee sliver of a horror film that’s tongue-in-cheek but also quite matter-of-fact in its creature-feature jokiness. It’s the monster-bug thriller as light dessert. The spider, it turns out, is an alien — after a gruesome prologue with lots of whooshing “Evil Dead” camera movement, the movie cuts to four days earlier, when a fiery meteorite crashes through an apartment roof in South Brooklyn and into a dollhouse in the home of Helga (Noni Hazlehurst), a cantankerous German grandma with dementia. A seed pod that looks like a jellied jewel opens like a Venus flytrap, and out crawls the spider, which walks and, at moments, practically dances through the dollhouse during the opening credits.

The movie is about as derivative as can be. But since the writer-director, Kiah Roache-Turner, is reasonably canny about what he’s ripping off, “Sting” is halfway likable for just that reason. It’s a blithe apartment-house riff on “Alien” crossed with elements of “The Shining.” Yet in an odd way, the picture whose spirit it most conjures is “Little Shop of Horrors” (not the musical but the original 1960 version).

It’s always fun to play the game of “What was the first slasher movie?” On some metaphysical level, the answer will always be “Psycho.” But if you say: What was the first slasher movie in terms of the whole glumly repetitive Who will be the next to die? tone and structure of it all, the films that people usually reach for are “Black Christmas” (1974) and, before that, Mario Bava’s “A Bay of Blood” (1971), which foresaw slasherdom in an ironic way. The film was so logy and inept that it presaged the formulaic quality that ended up defining the genre.

You could make the case, though, that the original first slasher film was “The Little Shop of Horrors.” The entire movie, of course, was a goof, a schizoid cardboard Vaudeville horror burlesque shot in two days and a night by Roger Corman. But Audrey, the killer plant, still qualifies in spirit as the first slasher — a showpiece icon of serial homicide, with a caretaker who’s the film’s hero and therefore makes you wonder: Which side is he on? The same is true of Charlotte, the doting spider feeder avidly played by Alyla Browne, who is Nicole Kidman’s daughter. The spider keeps eating, and her prey keeps getting larger: first the bugs, than a parakeet (which she leaves looking flayed), then the sloshed Spanish widow downstairs. Each killing is served up as just what it is: a meal. By the time Sting starts wrapping her victims in giant webs made of greenish ooze, some of the main characters are hanging there, suspended, even as the movie suspends itself between creep-out and giggle fit.

The spider, created with models and digital effects, is fun to watch; at times the film plays like “Alien” with a piece of origami at its center. The creature looks more real when it’s smaller, but as it enlarges its jaws look more sexual. As for the family drama, it’s all about whether Charlotte and her nice-guy stepfather, Ethan (Ryan Corr), can learn to get along. They’re creating a comic book together, but he’s the super of the building, working for Gunter (Robyn Nevin), his wife’s Teutonic cartoon of an aunt, and the misery of his existence starts to tear apart his fragile male ego. It will take nothing less than battling the now-giant spider to pull the family together. “Sting” is never more than a cheeseball trifle, but at least the film knows it.