Locusts (2005)

Rating: B-

Dir: David Jackson
Star: Lucy Lawless, John Heard, Dylan Neal, Mike Farrell
a.k.a. Locusts: Day of Destruction

Perhaps the best tribute to this, is the change in Chris’s attitude over the course of proceedings. When it started, she was “Is this a Hallmark movie? Why are we watching it?” But at the end, the first words out of her mouth were, “So, when are we watching Vampire Bats?” Now, do not be under any illusions. I’m not claiming this was unjustly overlooked at the 2005 Academy Awards. But if you have any sensitivity about locusts, grasshoppers, crickets or similar insects, this will dig its mandibles in and pick away at those fears with admirable diligence. And if you haven’t any such sensitivity, there are enough close-ups of their monstrous little faces, to make this change over the course of its 90 minutes.

Maddie Rierdon (Lawless) works for the Department of Agriculture, though her first scene is rather less…well-clad than most civil servants. She is disturbed to find that one of the researchers of whom she has oversight, Dr. Peter Axelrod (Heard), has been engaged in a project, basically to weaponize locusts, e.g. speeding up their life cycle and voracious tendencies. Rierdon orders his scheme shut down, the insects destroyed and Axelrod fired. Of course, it’s never quite that simple, with some of the specimens surviving and escaping. A little later, two gigantic swarms arise on East and West coasts, causing havoc, as well as much, much running and waving of arms. Rierdon needs to find a solution before they merge to form a Locustnado, sorry, super-swarm [it does feel at some points like an Asylum film]. Not helping matters: relationship issues with her other half (Neal), or the military’s eagerness to take off and nuke the site from orbit. Well, at least, use VX nerve agent on American soil.

The insects appear to bear grudges, and take things personally. One of the first things attacked – save for a black couple who have the misfortune to pitch their tent on the ground from which the locusts are about to burst – is a school bus carrying Dr. Axelrod’s little poppet to school. Later on, the farm belonging to the heroine’s father (Farrell, Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt from MASH) comes under siege too. I almost expected them to hang around Maddie’s apartment, or leap out of a closet at her. But all the attacks are more or less similar, with a lot of shots where you can imagine the director yelling, “Flail! FLAIL MORE! We’ll add the locusts in later…” That said, they are fairly well done, especially with regard to conveying the bulk of the swarm. It’s all quite energetic, and there’s definitely no shortage of incident.

Of course, locusts being herbivorous does somewhat limit the threat level. There are later suggestions they’re changing up their diet, and going after livestock and humans. Sadly, this being a TV movie (though originally CBS, rather than Hallmark) limits the scope for gruesome attacks by flying piranha-like creatures. We still get a good scene at Pittsburgh airport. Dr. Axelrod tries to alert the tower to the threat, only to be disbelieved by the supervisor, with a comment about their staff being too busy “trying to avoid flying monkeys”. 45 seconds later, she’s proven wrong, as a cargo plane becomes a giant fireball, courtesy of the locusts. There’s also an attack on the Visalia Citrus Festival, including a brief, surreal shot of a giant orange, the event’s mascot, fleeing the swarm. It’s all helped by a good score from Joseph LoDuca, who composed the soundtrack for the Evil Dead trilogy, and also much of Xena.

A couple of things stand out from a contemporary perspective. Firstly, Axelrod isn’t able to find a job after his dismissal, which seems odd. These days, I’m sure the Chinese would be calling him daily, to discuss exciting opportunities at their Wuhan facility. The other is at the end, where the solution to the plague requires vast quantities of electricity. This requires every individual and business to stop using all non-essential power, so it can be funnelled to the appropriate place. Sadly, I can’t see this kind of national unity prevailing nowadays, where putting a bit of cloth on your face or not, is a divisive political issue. In 2021 America, the locusts would probably win.