UK Release Date: 25th June 2018
Runtime: 87 minutes
Director: Marko Mäkilaakso
Writer: Marko Mäkilaakso, Hank Woon Jr, Trent Haaga
Starring: Harry Lister Smith, Vanessa Grasse, Alex Mills, Mark Arnold, Callum McGowan, Andrew Horton
Synopsis: A motocross party out in the New Mexico desert takes a turn for the ridiculous when a horde of genetically engineered giant ants escapes a military facility with a desire to breed.
It’s hard not to enjoy a giant bug movie. There’s something inherently stupid about the concept that makes any attempt at the genre entertaining, as long as the film doesn’t take itself seriously. That’s certainly true of It Came From the Desert, which adapts the 1980s video game of the same name to produce a bargain basement creature feature with a self-aware vein of humour running through it. It’s a movie that self-consciously doffs its cap to Them! and its ilk of 1950s atomic panic movies, as well as the more modern likes of Jurassic Park. This obviously isn’t Citizen Kane, but it’s a very enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half.
The action takes place at a party, which is seemingly being held out in the New Mexico desert for the sole purpose of celebrating the motocross success of Lukas (Alex Mills). He has brought along his bookish brother Brian (Harry Lister Smith) for the ride, along with Brian’s crush Lisa (Vanessa Grasse). When they take a step away from the party, Lukas and Brian stumble upon an abandoned research facility that had previously been run by a military contractor. They are eventually attacked by giant ants, who have seemingly been engineered after arriving on Earth in an asteroid strike back in the 1950s. Awakened, they escape and begin to breed.
A film like It Came From the Desert is always going to rely, to a certain extent, on how well it creates its creatures. Not blessed with a blockbuster budget, writer-director Marko Mäkilaakso is forced to work with some rather cheap-looking CGI for his ants but, nonetheless, there’s a creativity in their design that makes them memorable – particularly when we’re introduced to the genuinely disgusting queen of the colony. Everyone is so committed to their performances that all of the creature action just about holds water.
The movie is able to disappear into the rabbit hole of its own ridiculousness in such a way that the audience has a really good time. This is a story that features giant insects chugging beer as a key plot point and includes at least one scene of ants communicating with each other verbally, complete with English language subtitles. The film, however, clearly knows what it is doing and leans in to its feel of kitschy, B-movie camp – most notably in the knowingly over-cranked performances from Smith and Grasse as the will-they-won’t-they young couple at the centre of the action. Every line of dialogue is stupid, but it’s all done with a knowing wink.
That level of silliness and self-aware crappiness can only get a film so far, though, and It Came From the Desert inevitably runs out of steam eventually. By the fourth or fifth repetition of theme song ‘River Phoenix’ by Santa Cruz – one of those poppy metal tracks that is obviously crummy, but is also an absolute earworm – it’s greeted with a sigh rather than a bob of the head and there’s only so far that bad CGI can carry a movie that’s trying to depict a swarm of giant bugs attacking a teenage party. With that said, it’s always worth remembering the shot of that ant chugging beer. That’s worth the price of a DVD on its own.
There’s the trailer and an interesting VFX breakdown, showing some of the obvious – and indeed less obvious – ways CGI was used in the film.
Pop or Poop?
Fans of B-movie camp and direct-to-DVD shlock will find plenty to enjoy in It Came From the Desert, which knows it’s a stupid and ridiculous creature feature and completely leans into that world. The performances are dialled up to 11 and the CGI critters are impressive given the meagre budget on display. This isn’t a movie that’s going to change anybody’s life and it’s eminently forgettable in just about every way but, for the 90 minutes that it’s on screen, it’s a romp that will make you smile.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
It Came From The Desert is available on DVD in the UK from Monday, courtesy of Thunderbird Releasing.