It’s probably safe to say that a lot of tongue-in-cheek giant-creature movies released since the early ’90s have, on some level, aspired to be Tremors—to do for other mutated beasts what Ron Underwood, S.S. Wilson, and Brent Maddock did for giant worms. Say this for Stung, then: It’s probably the only monster movie that aspires to be both Tremors and the late, lamented Starz sitcom Party Down.
Stung doesn’t have Party Down’s killer ensemble; Paul (Matt O’Leary) seems to be the only other employee of the small catering company run by Julia (Jessica Cook), limiting the Party Down antecedents to Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan. O’Leary and Cook are no Scott and Caplan, neither as sardonic nor as empathetic. But they do share a likable, unforced chemistry—they both convey weariness with their jobs without condescending to them, or each other—that gives Stung a strong rooting interest. Their flirtation feels sweetly mutual, and once they’re facing an unexpected danger, it turns into an alliance based more or less in equality—even if Paul whines that Julia “still treats me like an employee” 10 minutes into a crisis that begins while he is, in fact, employed by her.
That crisis is a swarm of larger-than-average (but not yet giant) wasps attacking a garden party, and the initial burst of mayhem is unconvincingly, haphazardly staged. Dozens of extras run in slow, stupid circles; a few become incubators for bigger, nastier mega-wasps, while most of the rest seem to dissipate (probably escaping in their cars, though the movie only shows one car actually attempting to leave, and failing) until the cast becomes a manageable ensemble, holed up in a mansion where it seems no one else ran for refuge. The retreat into the house also turns a giant-wasp movie into a de facto zombie knockoff, with survivors under suspicion of hiding wasp bites that will turn them into giant bugs. The transformation process gives the movie its best bits of horror: scenes of gnarly, Alien-style gestational gore where giant wasps burst forth from the inside of their victims, often leaving shells of human faces stuck to their horrible insect legs.
That’s about all of the inspiration the filmmakers have to offer in terms of horror imagery, and Paul and Julia’s charms seem to use up more human-based inspiration. The rest of the characters, like the hard-drinking, straight-talking old man (genre mascot Lance Henriksen) and the shifty, wormy son (Clifton Collins Jr.) whose family throws the annual garden party, act exactly as anyone would expect them to act after a few minutes of screentime: The old guy’s got gumption, and the young guy is deceptive and dangerous.
The predictable characters aren’t much help when, in the movie’s final stretch, nearly every scene feels drawn out to twice its natural length—and not as an exercise in unbearable tension. When the heroes examine an ominous hole in the mansion wall, for example, director Benni Diez doesn’t actually ratchet up a sense of dread; he just keeps cutting to shots of them looking at the hole, and then looking some more, and then looking from a slightly different angle. It stops short of true parody, landing squarely in the realm of genuine tedium: It really is a sequence where a few characters stare at a hole in the wall, even though they (and the audience) know exactly what must be behind it.
It’s too much tedium, in other words, for Cook and O’Leary to overcome with charm alone. They also have to contend with a bit of horror-movie fatalism that steps on their genuine romantic moments as the movie wraps up. Paul and Julia can rescue each other, but they need more help pulling Stung out of Tremors and Party Down’s combined shadow.