King Of The Ants
US, 2003. Dir. Stuart Gordon (WORLD PREMIERE)
6/13 9:30p Egyptian
6/15 11:30a Cinerama

Sean Crawley (Chris McKenna) is a likeable, callow fool drawn into a murder-for-hire scheme. When he attempts to collect his blood money, he’s held captive and tortured in a graphic second act, into which hallucinations and fantasies are intercut. Escaping, he seeks out his murder victim’s wife as his lover, fulfilling one of his fantasies. When she discovers who Crawley is, he accidentally kills her. He then seeks out the thugs he originally killed for and systematically kills them in a climactic confrontation.

This film is better than my summary implies. Unfortunately, I found it less intelligent than it wanted to be. You’re supposed to like Crawley; I thought he was an idiot. The closing scene’s reliance on the vengeance-bound heroism of the self-made man was not appealing to me, not a big Charles Bronson fan. Despite this, there’s serious filmmaking here, delineating an amoral, misanthropic existentialism with an unflinching eye.

(originally posted June 10 on the Tablet SIFF Board)

I felt obligated to see and review this film after having seen Gordon’s fascinating, entertaining interview on the Onion A.V. Club web site. Gordon is the director of Re-Animator and other cult fare, as well as Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.

I went with a bit of trepidation, as I am not at all a gorehound or generically interested in horror or slasher flicks.

King of the Ants was adapted from the novel of the same name by Charlie Higson, a British TV comedy writer. Originally published in 1992, the few online encomiums for it I saw were uniformly celebratory; one suspects it belongs to the New British Novelists grouping around Trainspotting, but I found no direct link between them.

At any rate, the thrust of the narrative is similar: what happens if you take a poorly educated, callow young man and instead of thrusting him into the military, a job or family life, hook him up with thugs and torture him for several days? Higson’s answer: he grows an antisocial philosophical system. Fair enough. That’s the serious material the film grows from as well.

My disinterest in and discomfort with screen violence meant that I was was not entertained by the film. Again, that would appear to be a part of the film’s intent. So does the film succeed?

I don’t think it does. It’s brutal and in the end celebrates Crawley as a kind of Randian architect of house demolition. I personally have a bone to pick with Randian existentialism – it’s philosophy for adolescent idiots that seek isolation to confirm their egocentric fantasies of revenge and power – and this certainly colors my view of the film. What I’m uncertain of is whether the film intends to celebrate this worldview. The closing shot – Crawley strides purposefully toward the camera as the house explodes behind him – is such a cliche of the action film that it reads as both celebration and – just maybe – ironic commentary. If it’s supposed to be ironic, however, it’s overly dry and will not be noted as such by the great majority of viewers.