King Of The Ants

Director: Stuart Gordon 
Chris McKenna, Kari Wuhrer, George Wendt

Over the years, I have mentioned in passing a substantial amount of personal information about myself in my movie reviews for this web site. If you have read a good deal of these reviews, you probably have some idea as to what kind of person I am. One thing that you may have concluded is that I am an adventurous kind of guy. After all, looking at my movie reviews I have covered everything from PM Entertainment actioners to dance musicals. (If I could only track down a copy of Can't Stop Dancing - a dance musical that PM Entertainment produced - I'd be one happy camper.) But if a documentary were to be made of my life, with me followed around by cameras, you would see that the most adventurous thing I do in my time is when on a rare occasion I watch a movie funded by Telefilm, the Canadian government film funding agency that's usually clueless as to what a real movie is. And usually after watching such movies, I am glad to get back to a normal and uneventful routine. I certainly don't do anything like skydive or race cars. Why do I more often than not stick to things that are ordinary and safe? Well, one reason is that I remember the reckless things that I did as a youth. There were some things that I did with a mind not yet fully mature that make me wonder, after I subsequently gathered maturity and experience, just how I didn't get hurt while doing those reckless things. Also, like just about everyone out there, some of the dumb things that I did I got caught doing, and the humiliation and the punishment that I got from doing those things really struck home. There's no way I want to relive those bad things, so I will stick to the level yet safe path from now on.

But that's not to say that I am not tempted. Every so often, the Devil on my shoulder whispers in my ear a suggestion to do something that is wrong either morally or legally. Fortunately, I am able to resist these suggestions each and every time. I also have to admit that sometimes when I am bored, I amuse myself by thinking about what I would do to pull off the perfect crime. After watching so many police shows over the years, I believe I have come up with plans to pull off perfect crimes of different nature. Or have I? I always remember stories from various police shows about people who thought they pulled off the perfect crime, but were caught in the end. There are often unplanned elements that come into play during a so-called perfect crime. This in part has had me swear to myself that my crime planning will remain at the planning level and never be actually executed. But could I ever be convinced to pull off some kind of crime? There is an old saying that goes, "Everyone has his price." Could I possibly be convinced to pull off a crime under the right circumstances? What if, for example, someone offered me a briefcase full of money to pull off a major felony? I would like to think I could resist even thousands of dollars as a reward. I have come across many true crime cases of people hired to pull off a crime, but were eventually caught and convicted. Then there is danger even if you pull off the crime and manage to get away with it. What if the person who offered you the money decides not to pay you? You very well can't go to the police or courts and complain. And there is the possibility that the person who hired you will turn on you and make sure you are permanently silenced.

As you can see, more often than not there isn't that much honor among thieves. You are not the only person who is out for something, that something more often than not being content and secure in one's own life. With that in mind, and considering all the evidence I brought up earlier, I am King Of The Antspretty sure that even a huge amount of money wouldn't persuade me to pull off a crime any time soon. I know that I'll see plenty more stories, both real and fictional, that will show the risk of ordinary people getting involved in crime. Just recently I saw an example of what can go wrong with pulling off a crime with the movie King Of The Ants. The DVD case intrigued me, since it stated it was directed by Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator)... but it also stated it was distributed by The Asylum, a B movie studio known for releasing ultra cheap and cheesy movies like Allan Quatermain And The Temple Of Skulls. But I figured that the combination would at least give me plenty of material to write about one way or another. The central figure of King Of The Ants is one Sean Crawley (McKenna, Art School Confidential), a directionless young man in Los Angeles who is barely making a living painting houses. One day while at work painting a house, a new person named Duke (Wendt, Cheers) comes to fix the electrical work in the home. The two men hit it off well right from the start, and start talking about various things. A short time later, Duke offers Sean a moonlighting job. Duke arranges Sean to visit his boss, a developer named Ray (Daniel Baldwin, Phoenix). Ray asks Sean to shadow a person named Eric Gatley (Ron Livingston, Office Space), a person Ray suggests is giving him some kind of grief. The job seems harmless, so the eager for money Sean agrees, and shadows Eric over the next few days, making notes of Eric's various movements. A few days later, after Sean has given his reports to Ray, Ray offers Sean another job with a juicier paycheck - kill Eric. Sean is not exactly gung ho about this job, but the promise of lots of money eventually convince him to give it a shot. But Sean, as well as Duke and Ray, has no idea what his subsequent actions will eventually lead all of them to.

If you are a fan of Stuart Gordon's films (or, for some deranged reason, the films from The Asylum movie company), you may think that you have some idea of how King Of The Ants plays out. What you're probably thinking is that it plays out in a "fun" fashion, tickling its audience with various "R" rated elements ranging from violence to sexual material. That's what I thought I would get, but boy, was I surprised by a lot of what was to follow after the character of Sean agreed to kill Eric. I will kind of have to reveal what happens to explain my surprise, though I won't say who does the shocking acts to whomever else in order to leave some surprise should you decide to see the movie. (Despite what I just said, there are what may be considered SPOILERS AHEAD). People do die in this movie, though the deaths will not satisfy any bloodlust you may have. The people that die don't always die easy. As you may know, the human body can often take a lot of punishment before taking its last breath, and we get to see this in graphic detail. The portrayal of death in this movie is downright painful to watch, despite whoever gets killed. It doesn't end with just the death of the victim - there is sometimes an undignified presentation made of the victim for whoever is to discover the unlucky person's corpse. But it's not just death that generates a queasy feeling, but other forms of violence as well. Midway through the movie, there is an extended torture sequence - emphasis on "extended". The victim of the torture is inflicted with pain over and over, and each and every blow that is landed on the victim I couldn't help but feel myself despite being in an observer's position in the real life world. All of this violence is depicted in the grimmest light you can possibly imagine, and by itself makes King Of The Ants far removed from any "fun" cinematic experience you can think of.

But it's now just graphic violence that the movie uses to generate an extremely bleak and dark tone. It's also with many of the various characters found in the movie. It probably comes as no surprise that the characters of Duke and Ray come across as extreme scum. After all, they are wanting someone to be bumped off for their own selfish interests, and give the responsibility of their ambition to some dumb schmuck they can manipulate. But it's also the person they manipulate - Sean - that quickly becomes unsympathetic in our eyes, despite him being the central character of the movie. The fact that he agrees to kill an innocent person by itself sours him in front of our eyes. But it gets worse later in the movie. I don't want to reveal all the details and make some big spoilers to people reading this who haven't seen the movie. But I will say that much later in the movie, after much pain and torture has been brought forth on the screen, the character of Sean starts a relationship of sorts with a certain character. I can't reveal more details, but I will say that my jaw dropped as this relationship progressed, and in short time I wanted to grab Sean by the throat and hiss in his face, "You bastard!" Usually in a film, there is one main character you put your hopes on that he or she will succeed or triumph against whatever conflict that has been put forward. Not in this movie. The central characters, as I've illustrated to you, are all a despicable bunch of characters. Oh, there are a few supporting characters that could be considered "good", but wait until you see what happens to almost all of them. What exactly happens to them I will not say, except that it will leave you feeling that there is no hope for humanity with such a cold cruel world containing people like Duke, Ray, and Sean.

Let me say it again: King Of The Ants is far, far from being a "fun" movie watching experience. From that declaration, and from what I have told you up to this point, it would be understandable if you are thinking that I am not recommending this movie. Yet while I am certainly not giving this movie a glowing recommendation, I do think that it is worth seeing - at least for viewers who have seen their share of rough cinematic stories and are properly prepared for another one. While the movie certainly is cold, dark, and bleak, it is very well crafted for what it is. The movie was clearly done on a low budget, but in this case, the limited funds actually help the movie. There is often a seedy feeling, which seems very appropriate since most of the principle characters seem to be functioning on the edge of society. Also, I think a slick feeling to King Of The Ants would diminish its scenes of graphic violence and various acts of inhumanity - the movie's characters are really rolling around in the filth of society. Speaking of the characters, they may be scum, but the performances by their actors are really good. The performers really make the characters a hateful bunch of people, but not in a way that will make you hit the eject button on your DVD remote. You may despise them, but all the same you get curious about them. Director Stuart Gordon takes these loathsome individuals and somehow presents them in a way that makes you wonder what will happen to them.  Maybe it was hope of seeing them eventually suffer or die, but I couldn't stop watching. And as bleak as the movie may get at times, it is certainly not boring. Gordon keeps the movie moving at a brisk clip, with a new development happening every few minutes. Obviously, this movie is not for everybody at any time. But if you are tired of standard plots and characters, have a strong stomach, and are willing to be outraged on occasion, you might find King Of The Ants an interesting viewing experience. But note that I didn't say it's a "fun" experience. Unless you are lacking as much humanity as the movie's main characters.

(Posted January 19, 2017)

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See also: Bonnie's Kids, Dance Or Die, Death Game