“Infested” Will Make Your Skin Crawl in the Best Way [BUFF Review]

When asked what movie most scared them as kids, a surprising number of Gen Xers and Elder Millenials name Arachnophobia. Frank Marshall’s 1990 film features a scene-stealing performance from John Goodman along with hordes of poisonous spiders that lay waste to an idyllic small town. There’s just something about these silent hunters that make our skin crawl. They’re supposedly a benefit to the natural environment, but it’s hard to remember that when you see one creep across your wall at night. Sébastien Vanicek highlights the terror of these eight-legged monsters in Infested, a skin-crawling nightmare of stealth and survival. This French language story follows the residents of an urban apartment complex beset with poisonous spiders and may just be one of the most terrifying horror films in recent memory. 

Kaleb (Théo Christine) has a strained relationship with his sister Manon (Lisa Nyarko) after the death of their beloved mother, though they still live together in her decaying apartment. With vague hopes to one day open a reptile zoo, Kaleb keeps a menagerie of insects and amphibians in makeshift enclosures lining his tiny room. He purchases a rare spider smuggled in from the desert, but carelessly leaves the poisonous creature in an unsecured shoebox. The tiny killer escapes and begins to reproduce, rapidly taking over the dilapidated building. Fearing an unknown contagion, police seal the exits and trap Kaleb and his friends with a growing number of the murderous bugs. Now he and his friends must not only survive swarms of massive spiders, but convince the outside world that they deserve to escape. 

To say these spiders are terrifying is an understatement. Even viewers comfortable with bugs and tiny beasts will likely find Vanicek’s spindly black arthropods unnerving. They snick and scuttle over every possible surface, seeming to explode into hordes of tiny newborns in the blink of an eye. Originally smaller than a playing card, these crawlers pack a poisonous punch. One bite causes nearly instant pain along with oozing welts that bubble the skin. With the ability to increase their size when faced with a threat, the spiders rapidly take over the building and begin nesting in the bodies of their fallen victims. It’s nearly impossible to watch Infested without meticulously checking couch cushions and blankets while compulsively investigating every itch. (During one particularly harrowing scene, I scratched hard enough to draw blood because I was convinced one was crawling up the back of my neck.) Eventually large enough to tackle a man, these monstrous arachnids become a clicking army of nightmare killers hell-bent on devouring the building’s few survivors. 

In addition to spiders Kaleb and his friends must deal with the horror of abandonment. Though there’s little to suggest an airborne contaminant, police immediately quarantine the building with little care for those inside. Having fallen into disrepair, the crumbling building becomes a perfect breeding ground for these many-legged killers and Vanicek uses malfunctioning infrastructure to show the desperation and resilience of Kaleb and his friends. Left to fend for themselves, the message is clear: residents of low-income housing are expendable and should willingly sacrifice their own lives to protect everyone on the outside. No amount of courage or resourcefulness will change their status as unwilling martyrs. Vanicek presents us with two powerful enemies and asks us to choose – would we fare better against the man-eating spiders or the callous police sworn to protect us? 

Vanicek elevates this frightening film with endearing characters determined to survive. Kaleb’s recklessness may cause incalculable pain, but he is our sympathetic hero and bears the emotional weight of the infestation. Hoping to hold on to the memory of his mother, this well-meaning young man has been connecting with his elderly neighbors and the knowledge that he’s caused their brutal deaths is just as devastating as the spider’s first bite. Kaleb lets down his emotional walls to protect his friends, finally reconnecting with his sister on what may be their final hour. It’s a touching emotional arc that adds heart to the horror without becoming too treacly or threatening to overwhelm the straightforward plot. With an emotional punch and nightmarish spiders growing larger by the minute, Infested fires on all cylinders to create one of the scariest horror films of the last few years. 

Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.