The Movie Waffler New Release Review (DVD) - IT CAME FROM THE DESERT | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (DVD) - IT CAME FROM THE DESERT

Screen adaptation of the 1980s video game.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Marko Mäkilaakso

Starring: Mark Arnold, Vanessa Grasse, Harry Lister Smith, Claudia Trujillo, Alex Mills


What did the Pink Panther say when he stood on an ant?

And if you think that’s a bad joke…

Nah, that’s not quite fair. It Came from the Desert, Marko Mäkilaakso’s hymenoptera themed creature feature, a sunny horror/comedy in similar order to Tremors and (the slightly forgotten ☹) Eight Legged Freaks, has its moments, but, unlike the industrious little fellas which it bases its premise upon, they don’t quite seem to pull together into a workable whole.


We begin the film by following a couple of teeny brothers - one a right geek, the other a cool kid, but both equally photogenic - to a party way out in the desert, a get together which has been organised by the latter. Problem is that the shindig - a sort of mini festival where around 30 kids drink beer from those red paper cups, watch a band and, in an extended moment of annoying gratuity, a sexy girl who removes her clothes in a PG13 strip show - takes place just around the corner from a cave-based military compound where experiments have been done on extra-terrestrial ants. Yikes!

These ants are understandably fuming at being poked and prodded by gruff blokes in uniform, and it is only a matter of time before they somehow break out and wreak havoc on the unsuspecting kids who are skylarking outside. Quite a bit of time as it happens, though. It’s at least half an hour before we properly see one of these giant insects. Previous to this, there’s a romantic subplot to set up involving the geek and a nice girl, along with some sort of dirt-bike based rivalry with a couple of bullies to establish. It is hard to place the age of our heroes, and thus difficult to get a handle on them; they drink, they drive, they don’t seem to answer to parents, yet they are subject to the sort of petty harassment that Nelson Muntz would dismiss as jejune, with the bullying mainly manifesting in a dialogue of panicked homophobia.

Least there’s the ants to look forward to. These are fantastically convincing CGI renditions of insects that are the size of dinosaurs. Once the antics begin the film takes off, with the exceptionally cruel massacre of the party (the sexy girl gets ant venom spat at her which burns off her face, etc) and a fondly realised homage to the deleted scenes in Aliens where we see the colonists cocooned up (here it turns out that the ants are capturing certain partygoers as a live buffet for their unborn ant-babies, aww!).


But, even with these forceful effects, the film misses a couple of tricks: initially, the ants' clicky dialogue is subtitled in one scene (amazing), but this conceit is dropped immediately, much as the monsters’ ability to spit venom is. Also, isn’t the whole point of ants that they work together? This lot are just random and undisciplined, and easily explode into goo when our plucky trio find a handy arsenal. Where’s Paul Rudd when you need him, eh?

An aspect that is intriguing is the film’s fascination with a proxy Americana. Mäkilaakso is Finnish, and, even though the film seems to be set in America, it was actually filmed in Spain. It Came from the Desert has an iconography of America that is as unsubtle and weirdly inauthentic as an ‘I Heart New York’ t-shirt; the kids are incongruously obsessed with a naff '80s action franchise (the fictional The Eradicator, the VHS aesthetic of which is recreated in scenes the brothers watch), there’s the utterly horrible rock soundtrack (the theme song, which proliferates throughout, even has a refrain about "going down like River Phoenix" - eh?) and, in a moment of supreme dissonance, a character points in surprise at something and shouts, "By the power of Grayskull, what’s that?" I mean, not only is this the incorrect deployment of the phrase (Prince Adam never said it as an expression of incredulity), but you can see that the young actor who reads the line has absolutely no idea what his character is on about.


This sort of homage is rife within It Came from the Desert, and is charming in its sincerity, if not quite the execution. Moreover, the film’s utter lack of cynicism, the wide-eyed sense of innocence and fun, is ultimately infectious, as is the can’t-go-wrong cavernous locations of cliffs and savannas, filmed in gorgeous hues of bourbon and tequila gold. A bit like an ant itself, It Came from the Desert is harmless enough, proving itself as a small film with an abundance of energy.

There is a VFX sequence which shows how the film was saturated from initial shoots to the lush golds of the eventual cinematography. This extra also adorably shows attack scenes with, and then without, the computer-generated insects, presumably to reassure those who may have thought that there were actual giant ants involved in the making of the film.

It Came from the Desert is on DVD June 25th.