Aside from delayed major horror releases, if the Year in Horror in 2021 has a theme it’s been a minor resurgence in eco-horror. To date, a handful of indie horror movies – In The Earth and Gaia – have reminded us that all is not well in our environment. And the quietly underrated The Beach House gave us a Lovecraftian look into an infected world lashing out. Now the latest indie horror release, The Spore, promises to mix eco-horror movies, a killer fungal infection, and zombies. And in a world just beginning to emerge from a pandemic, a killer fungus may be scarier than it sounds, especially since science has found a fungus that kind of turns some insects into ‘zombies’. So beware.
A rare fungal spore has rapidly spread across the country. As the spread continues unabated, ten strangers struggle to make sense of what is happening around them. Watching friends, family, and neighbours suffer shocking mutations and death, they quickly find themselves in a fight for survival.
The Spore Boasts Impressive Effects That Outreach Its Budget – And The Movie’s Scares
For its first 10 or 15 minutes, The Spore promises a taut, unnerving experience. Writer and director DM Cunningham pairs methodical pacing with a quiet, deliberative approach where only intermittent radio broadcasts hint at what’s unfolding. Genuine suspense and a few grotesque shocks punctuate the opening scene of a hazmat-suited CDC agent inspecting an abandoned campsite. Occasionally, this suspense pops again over the course of the movie. But Cunningham struggles to maintain the same level of intensity over the 90 minute runtime. Though The Spore is never boring it’s often tedious. There’s a terse standoff in a residential garage that feels urgent. Unfortunately, Cunningham fails to re-capture that urgency and the movie’s ending feels more perfunctory than anything else.
But the fungal-inspired mutations and various atrocities recall some of Rob Bottin’s inspired monsters.
Where The Spore finds some success is with its commitment to some admittedly impressive practical visual effects. No one is going to confuse The Spore for John Carpenter’s The Thing now or in the future. But the fungal-inspired mutations and various atrocities recall some of Rob Bottin’s inspired monsters. A handful of creatively grotesque scenes tease what could have been. Arguably, the visual effects far exceed the movie’s lower budget, which makes them all the more impressive. But The Spore’s disjointed storytelling and slow pacing never embrace the wild fun promised by its own effects.
The Spore Chooses a Storytelling Approach That Hampers Its Own Urgency
Much of The Spore’s limitations can be attributed to its storytelling approach. Instead of following a central character or group of characters, Cunningham adopts an almost ‘day in the life’ narrative structure that follows the fungal infection as it bounces from character to character. Not unlike the Netflix series, Black Summer, The Spore spends little time with any one character. Though The Spore isn’t an anthology movie the effect is similar. As a result, audiences may struggle to invest in what’s unfolding onscreen. Some viewers may like Cunningham’s approach – it separates The Spore from similar movies. Nonetheless, the absence of any one character with who to identify it deflates a lot of potential suspense.
…The Spore spends little time with any one character.
However, it also means the low-budget indie thriller relies less on its actors’ performances. To be fair, no one performance here is bad though it’s abundantly clear that this is an inexperienced cast. Only a few of the performers have a handful of credits to their name. Everyone else here seems to be making their onscreen debut. If scenes went on longer – or characters had extended roles – some of these limitations would have become more obvious. And some of the performances do limit just how much drama The Spore was likely to wring from its scenarios.
Despite a promising early 10 to 15 minutes, The Spore offers little new for horror fans. And what’s on screen isn’t particularly compelling. What’s on screen is essentially a twist on the zombie subgenre – and it’s not a novel one. That’s not the problem. Rather The Spore’s ‘day-in-life’ approach following several different characters ultimately undercuts the movie’s tension. With no one story in which to invest, things inevitably feel like several segments stitched together. It’s also a story approach that leaves little room for a bigger message like other recent indie eco-horror entries.