Producers: Jamie Hilton, Michael Pontin and Chris Brown   Director: Kiah Roache-Turner   Screenplay: Kiah Roache-Turner   Cast: Ryan Corr, Alyla Browne, Penelope Mitchell, Robyn Nevin, Noni Hazelhurst, Silvia Colloca, Danny Kim and Jermaine Fowler   Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment

Grade: C

In a long line of giant spider movies, this Australian-made one, though far from the worst, might be called a lesser example of the species.  The arachnid of “Sting” starts out small and grows to great size, but in terms of the scare quotient it engenders, the movie shrinks as it progresses, and the big finale, in which the creature chases its potential human victims around the innards of an apartment building, runs out of steam. 

The menace is not actually an earthly spider, moreover, but rather—as we’re shown early on—a creature that hatches out of an asteroid. The sphere crashed through the window of that building during an ice storm and then cracked open like an egg to release the thing.  It’s found by precocious twelve-year old Charlotte (Alyla Brown) while she’s prowling about the apartment of her great-aunt Gunter (Robyn Nevin), the nasty owner of the building. Gunter shares the flat with her sister Helga (Noni Hazelhurst), Charlotte’s grandmother, who suffers from dementia.  Charlotte’s crawled through the air vents from her own apartment to reach mean Gunter’s place, looking for toys she can purloin from the woman’s prized dollhouse but happy to find the spider, which she ensconces in a jar and feeds cockroaches; the beast, which she names Sting, consumes them whole, growing with each meal. 

Charlotte lives with her mother Heather (Penelope Mitchell), her stepfather Ethan (Ryan Corr), and their infant son, her half-brother.  Ethan serves as the building super at the sufferance of his wife’s aunt while trying to finish a comic strip he’s writing.  He and Charlotte get along reasonably well, though the girl pines for her absent dad and balks when her mother asks her to look after little Liam.  “You’re the bane of my existence,” the pretty but rather obnoxious girl tells the baby as she happily tends to Sting.

Writer-director Kiah Roache-Turner’s script lays out all this very slowly, going to great lengths to depict Ethan’s efforts to see to everything going wrong in the decrepit building, some of the problems in the apartment of Maria (Silvia Colloca), a pretty but depressed woman living with a cute dog and multiple bottles of booze.  Ethan’s work goes unappreciated by stern Gunter, who comes across as a Nazi type and tells the guy that he’s not a member of the family and can expect to lose his job at the end of the month.

Eventually Charlotte’s secret gets out after she visits Erik (Danny Kim), an expert on arachnids who conveniently lives in the building, to buy a fish tank to keep growing Sting in.  (He’s conducting some sort of research on fish.)  Erik warns Ethan about Sting, and Charlotte protests at the idea of losing her pet.  But the point is moot: the creature escapes and takes to the building’s air vents.  It also takes to feeding on some of the occupants, also dragging into its lair the exterminator (Jermaine Fowler) called in to investigate the strange noises in the walls.  Eventually Ethan and Heather join him there, and spunky Charlotte intervenes to save them and help her stepfather fight the menace.  In the best tradition of such movies, the right folks survive, but a postscript indicates that the threat is far from over. “Sting 2,” anyone?

“Sting” tries to be a bit of everything—a horror comedy (witness the strutting Gunter and jokey exterminator), a domestic drama, and a straight-up, gross-out creature feature, which treats the vents of the building in much the same way that “Alien” did those on the Nostromo.  The various parts don’t mesh particularly well, and the performances are quite variable, with some over-the-top (Nevin, Fowler) and most others bland. 

It must be said, however, that though it was clearly made on a limited budget, the crafts team—production designer Fiona Donovan and cinematographer Brad Shield—conjure up a claustrophobically dilapidated setting, and the WETA Workshop a spiffy-looking spider in both its original petite form and its gruesome larger one.  But the score by Anna Drubich has trouble capturing the various narrative tones, and the editing by Roache-Turner and Luke Doolan sometimes goes sluggish, especially in the latter stages when trying desperately to amp up the tension by prolonging the action.

“Sting” is a minor addition to the ranks of creature features with giant spiders—for all its age, 1955’s “Tarantula” still rules the roost—but fans of the genre will probably find it moderately enjoyable.