“Great. So, in addition to giant ants, we now have robot machine guns to contend with?”
Of course it is a giant ant. What else is gonna come from the desert?!
At least we can breathe a sigh of relief that these monstrous buggers can’t reproduce. Their mutant eggs can’t be fertilized without ethanol, and where are a bunch of insects going to get gallons of that in the middle of nowhere? Wait, world-class dirt biker Lukas (Alex Mills) is throwing a colossal party right around the corner. You know what vodka is made of, right? And beer? Plus, the fuel in that fleet of bikes is surely some kind of gasoline/ethanol blend. Gulp!
Now that they’ve gotten a taste, these xenoarthropods are surely going to make a beeline – errr, antline – towards town in search of more of the stuff. That’s not going to do anyone on two legs any good. As the clock ticks down towards the invasion, Lukas is joined by his meek mechanic BFF Brian (Harry Lister Smith) and brave, brainy, crush-worthy Lisa (Vanessa Grasse from Leatherface) to stamp out these ants once and for all.
Within the first twenty-someodd seconds of the flick, a meteor ravages the desert landscape. Less than a minute later, we’re ankle-deep in giant insects, spent shells, and a whole bunch of dead security personnel. Heck, even when we meet our unlikely hero Brian, he’s watching a thick slice of direct-to-video cheese circa 1993 called The Eradicator. Where’s that spinoff? I need more oatmeal zombie makeup, mullets, and Yamaha DX-7 synthesizers in my life.
It Came from the Desert opens with such precision and purpose. It feels like the handiwork of people who grew up watching irradiated monster bug movies as much as I did, carving out all the bloat and filler when it came time for their homage. Only then [he types with a sigh], the meat of the movie starts, and you don’t get so much as a glimpse at another giant ant until the half hour mark.
That’s the frustrating thing about It Came from the Desert. It’s wobbly and rattling, and I can’t shake the feeling that the movie would be so much better if only I could grab a socket wrench and tighten it up.
Finnish director/co-writer Marko Mäkilaakso (War of the Dead) resists the urge to cut away to random redshirts being attacked by these mutant insects, often leaving too much time between action. Even within a theoretically high-octane sequence, such as Lukas worming his way out of a speeding truck to race against his arch-rivals, the pace has a tendency to sag. Its campy, cornball sense of humor is worth some smirks but rarely scores actual laughs. (The ants’ gags land harder than any from the bipedal mammalian types.) Romances and rivalries are an uninvolving afterthought. The cock-metal soundtrack is a relic from another era – a Spotify playlist that just seems to be “River Phoenix” over and over and over and over.
The gender dynamics are kind of odd, too. It Came from the Desert does occasionally subvert the expected conventions. Lukas and Brian shriek and cower at one point early on, until Lisa storms in and saves the day, relentlessly whacking the hell out of a giant ant with… I dunno, a fire axe or a Harley Quinn mallet or something. Before you can say “female empowerment”, the camera cuts away to gratuitously leer at a stripper at Lukas’ party. As active a character as she is beforehand, Lisa spends much of the flick as a damsel in distress. I can’t say I’m wild about all the gay panic jokes about dicks in brothers’ butts or Brian and Lukas calling each other “gaylord.” (What year is it again?)
At the end of the day, I still like It Came from the Desert. I mean, it’s a nod to ’50s sci-fi/horror flicks, it’s based on an old Amiga game, and its fake action hero belts out one iconic Bruce Campbell line after another. The movie’s littered with homages spanning He-Man and the Masters of the Universe to Aliens to Return of the Living Dead to… umm, Deep Throat. Its exteriors were shot in the same Spanish desert as all the Spaghetti Westerns you know and love, and the cinematography is frequently drop dead gorgeous. It’s just that even with three credited writers and a Jussi Award-nominated editor, It Came from the Desert feels like an unpolished rough draft. There’s the making of something great here, but the end result lands on the more forgettable side of okay.
Although It Came from The Desert has yet to grace Blu-ray in the U.S., there are a few high-def releases elsewhere, including Canada and Germany. It’s also streaming on Hulu and Prime Video.