King of the Ants

Director: Stuart Gordon (2003)
Starring: Chris L. McKenna, George Wendt, Daniel Baldwin
Find it: IMDB

In which I continue to hunt down everything my favourite director (probably) has ever done. Next on the list - King of the Ants, which has nothing to do with HP Lovecraft and doesn't even have Jeffrey Combs in it. To add to the film's strangeness, there's lovely George Wendt, a Baldwin brother and it being based on a book by Charlie Higson. Yes, George Wendt from off've Cheers, a Baldwin that isn't Alec (or even Stephen) and that nice Charlie Higson from off've The Fast Show. Nobody in King of the Ants acts quite how you'd expect them to, except for maybe Daniel Baldwin, who just does an impression of his own brother (not Stephen) the whole time.

Young drifter Sean (McKenna) is an odd-job man without prospects until Duke (Wendt) comes along, offering the lad a job. Sean is tasked with following and eventually murdering the fellow from off've Office Space (Ron Livingston) - a task he takes to with remarkable gusto. I was personally very happy with this development, since Ron Livingston was the worst thing about Office Space. Expecting to get paid, Sean is disappointed when Duke and his gangster boss (a Baldwin) refuse. An attempt to blackmail Baldwin and his goons goes terribly awry when Baldwin has him kidnapped and smacked repeatedly around the head with a golf club.

The violence in King of the Ants is shockingly real. Every blow about the head Sean receives reverberates with us, the audience, until we come to dread his daily beatings as much as he does. The film's second half falls into somewhat standard revenge thriller territory, although it is a lot more grisly than most. I'll never look at George Wendt in quite the same way, that's for sure. Nor Vernon Wells, for that matter. Graduated from playing the one-note villain in Commando, Wells is actually one of the film's most sympathetic characters - and he's actually playing a bad guy. I was very disappointed by the fact he hadn't brought his magnificent vest over from that film.

Gordon is on more straightforward ground than his Lovecraft adaptations, but King of the Ants is no less bizarre. Sean's lack of purpose in life and barely contained anger is a precursor to Gordon's Edmond, his amorality also familiar from Stuck. That sense of horror and evil bubbling beneath the surface of apparent normality is very Lovecraftian, even if the film is completely free of Cthulu and his tentacle bastards. It's an interesting film - predictable but grim, the violence cruel and not glorified. It has its surreal moments too, which are made all the odder by the movie's gritty, very real aesthetic. The sight of Kari Wuhrer unsheathing a massive cock will haunt my nightmares dreams for some time.

King of the Ants is one of Gordon's weakest movies, but it certainly has its very disturbing, nastier moments.

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