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One of the most common things people are afraid of is spiders, and this fear is used to full effect in Infested—and that’s just with the title. Indeed, throughout its duration, Shudder’s latest offering skillfully sustains the feeling that something is crawling up your arm while characters flit around corners covered in webs, infected with a constant paranoia. In this way it could easily be described as a great survival movie dipped in creature-feature sauce, but with some psychological and body horror mixed in for good measure. However, what sets Infested apart from everything else is how it manages to show us an even greater evil than these eight-legged beasts.

Infested was directed by Sébastien Vaniček (who co-wrote alongside Florent Bernard) and sees a French apartment building—clearly past its prime—becoming infested with rapidly multiplying arachnids. It all starts when Kaleb (Théo Christine) buys a spider illegally to add to his already extensive collection of reptiles, insects and other creepy crawlies that he keeps safe and sound in his room. Obviously, being in a rush to get to his elderly neighbor’s birthday party means he doesn’t quite lock up after himself; naturally the thing escapes and lays eggs wherever it goes, which then quickly hatch and terrorize the rest of the tenants who are put under quarantine while officials try to figure out how best deal with them.

Even if you’re not scared of spiders at all there will still be moments during Infested that make you squirm uncomfortably. Some of this is due to how much the film leans into classic horror tropes and conventions besides just using arachnids as its main source of scares — all those elements are here too. From composers Xavier Caux and Douglas Cavanna’s grating strings or Alexandre Jamin’s high-contrast cinematography making every dark corridor feel like an abyss; these choices play effectively on our senses as viewers, putting us in prime position for a rollercoaster ride of thrills which means a tiny spider scurrying across the frame’s bottom edge is enough to make us jump out our seats.

This is not to say that the spiders themselves are not horrifying (one scene indirectly references Alien’s chest-burster moment). There has perhaps never been another horror film since 1990’s Arachnophobia which portrays these eight-legged creatures as anything other than what they really are—monsters. Throughout cinematic history—and even Arachnophobia falls into this trap somewhat—spider-centric horror movies have tended toward camp or comedy (Spider Baby; Eight Legged Freaks).

But in Infested Vaniček and Bernard bestow upon this particular breed of arachnid a kind of grotesque mythology, using its exoticism against us. In fact, during an opening sequence we see a group of men journeying to some forgotten desert wasteland to hunt it down; one succumbs to its bite in the most painful fashion imaginable, and only death brings release.

It helps that Infested taps into our shared trauma, too. The city — represented by Kaleb and Manon’s sister (Lisa Nyarko), friend Mathys (Jérôme Niel), estranged best friend Jordy (Finnegan Oldfield) and Jordy’s partner Lila (Sofia Lesaffre) — institutes a quarantine after the first wave of spiders kills people they assume have died from accidental drug overdose or some other viral infection. It’s not hard to see an analogy for the isolation we felt during peak COVID-19 lockdowns here on Earth when everyone was stuck at home and getting restless.

What sets Infested apart is its focus on people. Vaniček takes his time in the first act to let us get to know the main cast and some of the building’s other tenants. Some characters aren’t developed as fully as others, which becomes glaringly obvious when they undergo drastic personality shifts late in the movie during what one might call a “go-big-or-go-home” action sequence. But he does an excellent job making Kaleb a complex protagonist. Christine is fun to watch as he navigates through this character: his complicated history, his struggle finding himself in the world and his guilt over bringing the spider into their apartment.

In a way, Infested treats every person equally who lives within this community, which uncovers an even greater evil than these spiders: ourselves. There’s an argument to be made about how the original spider was forcibly taken from its natural habitat, trafficked by illegal dealers and then made to live where it didn’t belong; if anything, they’re mostly just retaliating for being attacked first by humans. Otherwise all they are doing is what comes naturally — nesting and breeding.

Then there’s how authorities treat them again… On another level, though I’m unsure whether or not this aspect of social commentary was intentional on Vaniček’s part, Infested works so well because it centers around a predominantly Black, brown and/or poor community: there is no other demographic that gets left behind or misunderstood by those in power more often than these people do. Between police assuming drugs were involved in tenants’ deaths at first, the media not caring about them at all and Kaleb being ignored by cops even when he goes to them for help, racism here is almost as rampant as the spiders.

During Infested’s final action sequence — where it feels like every police officer within 100 miles of the city fires their gun at spiders pouring in from every direction — there’s an important moment that should not be overlooked: compassion wins.

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