It’s time to take a look at an old school horror film. This one naturally gets tricky because of course when animals are the focus you have to get a little nervous. If the ants win then they’ll probably still suffer collateral damage, but if they lose then animal violence is assured. As a result, it does feel like there is no winning at times right? Well, that’s basically the situation and unfortunately this film was not able to get past that. It was curtains from the start.
The film starts with a meteor hitting the Earth and granting the ants extra intelligence to help balance them against the humans on the food chain. The Ants decide to take over the world, but they are willing to play the long game. They decide to start off in the suburbs and quickly take the local town over. That’s when two scientists arrive to try and see what can be done about all of this. They may be in a little over their head this time though and when another family is murdered they are also forced to look after a teenage girl. Now they must either try to stay and survive in the base they have built or attempt to escape.
Ernest is the main researcher and he believes that the only way to deal with the ants is to wipe them out. He wants to beat the Ants at their best though so he toys with them for a while. Naturally the ants don’t take too kindly to this. Ernest has a serious superiority complex which also doesn’t mesh too well with the situation. He’s one of the main antagonists here as he tries to prevent Kendra from escaping the base and continually puts the heroes in a bad spot. I can’t say that he was likable.
Of course, Kendra isn’t any good either. She had a traumatic start of course since seeing your family get taken down by ants can be pretty rough. Still, she nearly sabotages the heroes from the start as she breaks a box of ants and causes Ernest to get bitten. She is pretty afraid of the ants the whole time and just can’t keep up with them. At the end she also makes a pretty poor decision which sums up her whole character arc in the film.
Finally we have James who is the last of the main character. He decided to come along and study the ants, but doesn’t realize just how serious the situation is at first. He came to have fun but is quickly thrown into this game of death. He wants a peaceful alternative to dealing with the ants, but that kind of thing never gets to work in these films. You can appreciate the attempt I guess, but at the same time it’s basically just him giving up.
As hinted at earlier the film does have animal violence which really hurts its chances. There is a dog who shows up and naturally doesn’t last long against the Ants. Any animal that gets in their way is quickly demolished. Then you’ve also got other animals like the Grasshopper who shows up and gets wrecked which is pretty unfortunate. I was rooting for him to take some names. The animal violence is pretty bad so the film was definitely sunk at this point.
It also has a bad habit of dragging on scenes forever as we just see the Ants walking around. This’ll just bore you to tears and it speaks to how low the budget must have been for this film. It was just trying to buy time throughout which was too bad. The final segment of the film at least tries to be a little interesting with the twist ending as the Ants learn how to mind control humans and reanimate the dead ones. That could make a sequel a lot more interesting, but since this only happens for the final 1-2 minutes of the film I certainly wouldn’t say that it really impacts the score. At least it didn’t end on a low note right?
I suppose the writing isn’t bad here. The characters may not be the smartest, but at least they don’t always panic right away. For the most part they make an effort to try and stay objective about the whole thing. Blowing up the Ants’ energy cannons was a good idea. I certainly do think they should have had better defenses against the Ants though. Ultimately the insects are just able to walk into their base and destroy them. Meanwhile I thought the ants did a much better job of defending themselves with their cool heat waves and such. They even had fighter Ants of various elements to try and counter whatever the humans had up their sleeves. Their army coordination was on point.
Overall, Between the animal violence and the very underwhelming trio of characters, I can’t say that Phase IV is a film I would recommend to anyone. The dog scene guarantees that and having insects as opponents is never a good idea in basically any form of media. There are a very limited amount of routes you can take here and they all lead to disaster. If you want to see a good horror film I would suggest turning back and watching Poltergeist III instead. Otherwise, you should back up and check out a different genre like Scooby Doo. Those films will always be happy to throw a few puns your way.