J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

It Came from the Desert: B-Movie with Ants


It is a case of double retro nostalgia. At this point, the 1989 Commodore Amiga video game inspired by Them! and any number of Roger Corman sci-fi monster quickies seems like an unusual candidate for a feature adaptation, but at least it had a story. As it happens, most of the characters and plot points did not survive the property’s revival, but the ants are still in here. They will be big and mean in Marko Mäkilaakso’s It Came from the Desert (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

Lukas Deakins has just notched another dirt bike victory, thanks in part to his brainy younger brother Brian’s legal modifications. What better way to celebrate than a sloppy kegger out in the middle of the desert? To thank his bro, he will also invite along Brian’s longtime crush, Lisa, but it will take a crisis to get him to make a move.

Fortunately, a government contractor has fused alien DNA with common ants, because obviously that is what the scientific method dictates. Of course, they are adaptive little buggers, who managed to overrun the underground facility. The smarty pants scientists thought they were being clever by genetically engineering the need for an outside catalyst for their reproduction. That would be alcohol. Well, so much for that.

ICFTD is an amiable film with two likable central characters, but it clearly assumes that plus its nostalgic premise is more than enough to carry it over the finish line. Unfortunately, it lacks the real inspiration of a film like Graham Kelly Greene’s criminally under-distributed Attack of the Bat Monsters. Instead, we are just watching the cast, with their loopy grins, gamely going through the motions.

Vanessa Grasse portrays Lisa as a relatively forceful and proactive character, even though she will eventually require some rescuing. Harry Lister Smith is unflaggingly earnest as Brian, but Alex Mills approaches accidental self-parody as the nauseatingly cocky Lukas. However, the film deserves credit for the ant effects. The CGI is light-years more convincing than anything that would have been possible in the 1950s, 1960s, or even 1980s, but there is still an eccentricity to the attacking ants that is in keeping with the campy spirit of the films that inspired it.

Frankly, it is rather surprising how straight Mäkilaakso and his cast play it, which is a point in their favor. Unfortunately, Mäkilaakso and his co-screenwriters Trent Haaga and Henry Woon, Jr. never figure out where to take it. For genre fans, the results are nostalgic, but not particularly memorable. For seriously sentimental fans of the game (clips of which appear during the closing credits), It Came from the Desert releases today (5/29) on VOD platforms, including iTunes.

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