It Stings! by Darrell Tuffs

17 Jun

Before watching Tsunambee, the latest directorial effort by Milko Davis, I really wanted to enjoy it; above all, I was looking for the film not to take itself too seriously, hoping for a ridiculous but fun journey through the pleasures of cheaply made B-movie horror. During isolated moments, the film came so close to providing this; its set-up sounds like a terrifyingly camp dream I once had, and its advertising material feels appropriately exaggerated for such an extravagantly high-concept narrative. Yet the film, for the most part, fails to deliver on these promises, instead resorting to exposition dialogue in place of visual energy, and a half-baked faith narrative so awkwardly shoved-in that it almost becomes insulting.

I was hoping to write a review full of silly bee puns, but to ‘bee’ honest (sorry), I forgot bees were even the subject of this movie by the halfway point. Where was the chaos, the danger, the excitement? I understand that this is a budget horror film, so naturally, the swarm of bee attacks are not going to look great – I will therefore not condemn the movie for its sub-par special effects; only, I wanted more. Fill the air and space of the movie with an ever-buzzing, ever-present threat of bees. I could never really tell if these were small bees, giant bees, a mixture of the two? … Honestly, some looked more like wasps to me. 

The plot of the film was paper thin, yet oddly complex at the same time. We follow JB and Tubs as they attempt to leave town after a completely unexplained and utterly random bee attack. There are slight signs that these attacks may be related to a biblical plague or possibly judgment day, yet these possibilities are never met with any deep heft or theological understanding, but are rather narrative tools to provoke empty symbolism. I say, if you’re going to tackle these issues, do it with some heart and meaning, rather than deploy Christian symbolism such as the cross for a shorthand of mystery and fantasy; the film trips over its own shoehorned message by mystifying rather than humanizing these subjects. More on this later…

JB and Tubs soon meet Sheriff Lindsay Feargo. Side note – just in case you forget who the sheriff is, just look at her cap, which holds the word SHERIFF in huge letters, or her badge, which holds the word SHERIFF in huge letters, or, of course, her SHERIFF UNIFORM… I kept forgetting who the sheriff was, so reminding me with the word SHERIFF in huge letters was very helpful indeed.

In fact, all the film’s characters are complete stereotypes… we have the bubbling ‘hillbilly’ type, the mystical wise woman with a foreign accent, and an urban black man with a violent attitude. This all makes for a very uncomfortable watch in parts, but also spoils the plot since we can more or less correctly guess the order of their onscreen deaths based on how nice they are. Apart from being offensive, this is just lazy writing; give us more interesting characters, why do they need to fit these stereotypes?

For some plus points, the film isn’t so much badly made, just inconsistently put together. There are some lightly entertaining moments of B-Movie joy; most of which evolve bees attacking humans in cars and houses rather than humans exposed to the elements. The film’s CGI bees seem to interact with these closed spaces better, highlighting the claustrophobic nature of their merciless and swarming outbreaks. Other than this, the film has some great, “so bad they’re good” lines; I almost choked with laughter upon hearing the line, “Why did the bees hurt my mummy? She was a good mummy”. Some of the dialogue slaps you so hard in the face that you have no choice but to laugh, even during moments meant to be sad. During one scene, JB makes a comment indicating he is much more concerned for his car than the people around him – we understand this joke, it has registered, end of story. What we don’t need is Tubs immediately saying, “It’s the car you’re worried about?” … the narrative equivalent to the writer shouting, “Guys, I made a joke! Did you hear my funny joke?”. 

My biggest problem with the film: its depiction of faith. The film attempts to stuff in unconnected Bible quotes and Christian iconography, yet says nothing about the nuances and complexities of such issues. ‘Faith’ in the film seems to be a matter of just being positive. By the film’s standards, if you’re positive and believe in kindness, then you’ve understood true faith; faith shouldn’t be depicted as being so simple… faith in anything takes hard work, honesty, and constant perseverance. Yet, in this movie, it’s treated as a shield; say you have faith = not getting attacked by bees. Look, I understand this film is called ‘Tsunambee’, just by that we can assume it’s not going to bring any kind of deep theological discussion to the table. My problem is more with these concepts being used so awkwardly as an afterthought… the bottom line is, explore something deeper, or just make a silly film about bees. Attempting to congeal these themes together is the worst of both worlds; the poor message distracts from the bee action, and the bee action, in turn, insults the message.

I do, however, appreciate the enthusiasm of the movie – making a low budget film like this is no easy task, and I commend filmmakers like Davis for displaying such a sense of passion for cult films like Tsunambee. I only wish the plot would stick to one coherent theme, that the dialogue would believe in itself more, and that the characters could be individuals, rather than handpicked from the film stock archive of most boring and most used on-screen stereotypes.    

*A reminder before I end; just in case you forget. Do remember that the sheriff is the one with the huge word SHERIFF on her cap. It’s real easy to forget that…         

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