King of the Ants 2003 Movie Chris McKenna as Sean Crawley pretending to be fixing his bike across the accountant's house

King of the Ants [2003]

I just love that feeling when a movie totally surprises you in a positive way. You think that you’ve seen them all and that if you skipped some of them, you skipped them for a good reason. Directed by none other than the king of eighties horror and Lovecraftian adaptations, Stuart Gordon, King of the Ants is not a movie about ants. It’s a thriller with a very fucked story, really close to the psychological horror genre.

In the opening scene, a guy uses a sandwich as a bookmark, a sure sign that it’s going to be a great movie. It’s based on a novel of the same name written by Charlie Higson who also wrote the script. The thing that will get you with this movie is the realism. Every situation and scene feels so realistic and authentic that you get this uncomfortable and queasy feeling in your gut. Like you’re watching something that really happened.

It was so strange to watch a Gordon movie without any supernatural elements. After all, this is the man who created such cult classics as Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dagon. After the turn of the century, he focused on the realistic but still fucked up stories like in Edmond and Stuck. The movie we will be talking about today feels like the first part of this trilogy. It was produced by The Asylum, a company responsible for all those crappy science-fiction rip-off movies and creature feature airing incessantly on the Sy-Fy channel. This was their first and best movie in my opinion. It turned a basically melodramatic premise into something strange and intense.

Meet Sean Crawley, a man without much ambition and structure in his life. One day, as he was painting a house he meets Duke, an electrician who offers him better paid work. It turns out that Duke works for a shady real estate developer and that the work is to spy on an accountant who has been investigating Ray’s company. Things go downhill from there…

Just don’t tell Bill Burr about this movie, he will get into even more trouble with the painters. The first thing you’re going to notice about it is the camerawork. Shot with just one shaky camera, it looks pretty bad. Everything else is great, from sound editing, music to sets. And we haven’t even scratched the surface of The King of the Ants. Even the title hides a secret message and makes you think.

It’s delightfully subversive, casually questioning morality and turning it upside down. The good Samaritan is a sucker and a vile mafia boss a guy who gets it all. No justice, no peace. It also questions the system of values that most of the people adhere to so religiously. A system where things happen for a reason and where people just don’t do certain things. It feels like a new wave of neo-noir.

The cast was simply stunning. From Chris McKenna who made us feel for the guy even after everything that happened, over George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) and his confident performance, to beautiful Kari Wuhrer who was phenomenal as Susan Gatley. I know that Daniel Baldwin’s performance here was not very well received, but I found him really convincing. He not only looks the part but acts the part of this mid-level criminal, sleazy and experienced. And Ron motherfucking Livingston (Swingers, Office Space) is also here in a very important role. Plus, we have both male and female nudity, a perfect mix in my opinion.

At times visually repulsive and vile, this is a character study that takes a different route than most movies with the same subject. There are no prolonged exposition shots, ruminations and inner dialogue. Stuart decides to skip all that and simply focuses on what’s actually going on, leaving the viewer to explore these motives. If he chooses to do so. If not, the movie doesn’t care, it just unfolds at its own pace. And some people will do exactly this, and that’s okay. I just hope they come back to this work of art and try to go deeper. Disturbing and really dark, The King of the Ants is one of those movies that will stay with you.

Director: Stuart Gordon

Writer: Charlie Higson

Cast: Chris McKenna, Kari Wuhrer, George Wendt, Vernon Wells, Daniel Baldwin, Carissa Kosta, Ian Patrick Williams

Fun Facts: It took seven years to find a company willing to produce the film


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