When the 1989 "one-hit-wonder" glam-metal band "Sonic Grave" embark on a trip to Coachella in hopes of a comeback, their peyote trip pit stop in Joshua Tree incites an "unworldly" viscous attack, and they must "rock" themselves out of harms way.
Jake Busey – portraying lead singer Merrick – of the late ‘80s hair band Sonic Grave told me at the World Premiere of Dead Ant (at this year’s Screamfest) – exactly what to expect from the film:
“You’re gonna see rock, you’re gonna see bugs, you’re gonna see blood and guts. You’re gonna see guitars and drumsticks. You’re gonna see trucks and camper vans.”
And that pretty much sums it up.
And with a title like Dead Ant – of course your mind will automatically go here…
Henry Mancini’s The Pink Panther theme. And yes, that familiar tune will certainly come into play at some point in the film. And that gives you an additional inkling of the overall tone in this horror/comedy.
Dead Ant held the aforementioned World Premiere at the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
It was the late ‘80s when the hair/heavy metal band Sonic Grave (lead singer Merrick – played by Busey, guitarist Pager – played by Entourage’s Rhys Coiro, drummer Stevie – played by Leisha Hailey, bassist Art – played by The Lord of the Rings’ Sean Astin) was enjoying its heyday.
All of these years later, their long-suffering manager Danny (Tom Arnold) is still going to bat for them – most recently by getting them a sad gig at a Coachella music festival knock-off, called NO-chella. With the hopes to find inspiration to write a new song before the next night’s performance, the band stops off at a local “veggie stand” in the desert to pick up some peyote from merchants Bigfoot (Twin Peaks’ Michael Horse) and Firecracker (Seinfeld’s Danny Woodburn). As the rockers pick up their goods to hopefully find their muse, they’re given a dire warning along with instructions, “Don’t do anything, hurt anything, kill anything on this sacred land, or there will be dire consequences.” As you can imagine, when a lowly ant is killed (via a steady flow of urine) – those “dire consequences” will kick in. With every ant killed thereafter, their size (per ant and in the ant horde as a whole) increases.
What immediately sets this apart from the obvious brethren you might see in SyFy Channel’s “giant monster” pantheon – is the level of quality actors cast in the film.
You’ve got Jake Busey, Sean Astin and Tom Arnold headlining this cast of veterans, and even with the absurdity of the film, these actors give it their all and seem to know exactly what kind of film they’re in and how to make it all work.
Despite the presence of these recognizable names, I was most impressed with the work of Leisha Hailey (from Showtime’s The L Word) as drummer Stevie. She seems to be the actor most deeply invested in her character. When speaking with her on the Screamfest red carpet, she explained that some of her character inspiration came from ‘80s rocker Lita Ford (I see it). Of all the actors doing outlandish things during the peyote trip – I was most taken with Hailey’s work. And that carried through for the rest of the film. She’s fun to watch and her enthusiasm – notably as she’s slamming her fist into the roof of the band’s beat-up truck during a tense chase scene – made me smile.
Although Hailey and her character are my favorites, Tom Arnold practically steals the show as the band’s manager. Every single one of his lines is delivered with loud gusto, mixed with just plain exhaustion (this guy’s had it with his musical wards). And there were clearly countless moments when Arnold was ad-libbing – but these moments are all joyously funny as well.
There’s not much here as far as story – group of aging rockers take drugs and attempt to escape giant killer ants. But the relationships are kind of fun – and there’s a real sense that these folks have been together for a very long time. There’s a nice short-hand between them all and with that comes a weird sort of trust/love on the part of the audience. There is some cattiness at the expense of one of the band members – but you feel like these long-time artists/friends have one each other’s backs.
The pacing is generally pretty good (and there are some actual moments of suspense as the group rushes for cover in the band’s trailer), but there could have been a few trims in the running time and at one point, my brain said, “this idea has outstayed its welcome”. However, once it all picks up again for the climax, that thought was put back into hibernation.
The ant visual effects range from pretty damn good (mostly the ants when they’re smaller) to retro-effects straight out of the Joan Collins’ ‘70s classic, Empire of the Ants. In other words – they’re not that good. But in the spirit of the film as a whole, of course they work.
I am certain the intent was to make this a cheesy flick which appears to be cheaply done. So while I despise those digital effects of blood-splatter (which are used repeatedly in Dead Ant) – again, I’ll accept them as part of the style the filmmakers were going for.
And a quick note to further entice you: the film’s opening sequence is hysterically funny and has bouncing naked boobs. So there’s that.
Look, the only thing separating this from every run-of-the-mill film premiering daily on SyFy Channel – is the quality of the film’s actors. Otherwise, we’ve seen this type of story and we’ve seen this type of film shot with less-than effects. This movie wouldn’t be out of place in a monster movie marathon next to Sharknado, Ice Spiders or Dinocroc vs. Supergator. Add into that mix, the aforementioned Empire of the Ants and perhaps Food of the Gods – and you’ll have a screechingly awful (read: good) time.
If you know what you’re going in to see and know exactly how the film should be taken (not seriously) – Dead Ant will do what it set out to do. In other words – how does that old turn of phrase go?
“Were you not entertained?”
The answer to that question is simply yes. This is not a film which will win awards. It’s not original by any stretch. But did I enjoy the ridiculousness of everything (kitchen sink included) which the filmmakers threw onto the screen? Yes, I did.
And finally, several members of Sonic Grave (Busey, Hailey and Coiro) took the stage at the premiere after party – to perform one of the band’s latest hits – a little ditty called “Side Boob”. And there’s your final hint at the kind of humor you can expect from Dead Ant.
No information is available at posting – of a wider distribution.