Sting (2024)

You wait years for a spider movie, and several scuttle along. Recently we have seen spiders attack the (apartment) block in Sébastien Vanicek’s Infested (Vermines, 2023) and an outsized arachnid on a spaceship in Johan Renck’s Spaceman (2024) – and now Kiah Roache-Turner’s Sting combines the two, as an asteroid-borne Alien egg shoots through a New York brownstone’s window into a child’s doll house (a playful microcosm of the building), and hatches a small red-backed spider which during the opening titles is seen crawling through the tiny rooms and over the toy furniture in clever foreshadowing of the size and scale it will eventually achieve. This extra-terrestrial arachnid is adopted as a pet by imaginative Charlotte (Alyla Browne), who is herself named for one of literature’s most famous spiders, and who is first seen scurrying through her building’s air ducts as the spider (expressly dubbed ‘Sting’ after the spider-slaying dagger from The Hobbit) will do later. 

This parallelism between 12-year-old girl and rapidly developing she-spider is significant: for the arrival of the alien egg coincides with the likely timing of Charlotte’s incipient ovulation, bringing with it the bloody, moody, sometimes monstrous anarchy of menarche, which only adds to other tensions at home. Charlotte’s stepfather Ethan (Ryan Corr) is struggling to bond with her, to balance his two jobs as a comic book illustrator and building manager with looking after the baby he has just had with Charlotte’s similarly put-upon mother Heather (Penelope Mitchell), and to get on with Heather’s terrifying aunt Gunter (Robyn Nevin) upstairs, who is also his landlady and his boss. Meanwhile Gunter’s demented sister Helga (Noni Hazelhurst) confuses – aptly – the horror in the building with the B-movies on her TV, even as her German heritage, and Gunter’s witch-like demeanour, bring a fairytale quality to a story in which Charlotte is introduced wearing a red hoodie.

Featuring a creature that grows fast, is a talented mimic of all around her and poisons her victims before consuming them, this captures the potential toxicity within a loving but fragile family, and finally lets them confront together the threat in their midst before it can grow out of all proportion and destroy them from the inside. Sting is a self-aware, endearing and funny allegory of icky adolescence, with an ensemble of well-drawn, likeable characters, some exquisitely contrived visual fake-outs, and a huge amount of genre savvy – and as this family battle their naphthalene-averse nemesis, they realise that sometimes difficult home truths must be faced head-on rather than merely mothballed. 

strap: Kiah Roache-Turner’s creature feature locks a dysfunctional family in with a troubled adolescent – and an evolving arachnid alien

© Anton Bitel