THE SPORE: A Different Kind of Outbreak Movie

It’s beautifully shot and has terrific effects — I just wish it was a more fun

Please note the images in this article are low-quality streaming snaps and don’t accurately reflect how great the movie looks, especially in terms of color — it’s more vibrant than these muted images suggest.

Landing divisively on DVD and Digital VOD this week, The Spore is the feature directorial debut of D.M. Cunningham, who also has a fair few short films under his belt.

The Michigan-shot film tracks the progress of a fungoid-based outbreak that rapidly spreads, ravaging a rural community, and then beyond.

The disease and its manifestations are pure body horror. The affected develop nasty fungal infections, then spread the spore by erupting blood and pus all over anyone unlucky enough to be nearby. If that wasn’t bad enough, once dead their DNA is altered and their corpses become reanimated, not merely as zombies (there’s some of that) but also wildly mutated monsters sprouting weird appendages and gaping abdominal maws (if you’re familiar with the Resident Evil franchise’s “Ganados” infected by Las Plagas, this is very much a similar kind of thing).

The tale is broken into chapters following the stories of different, mostly unrelated characters as the infection spreads. More broadly, it’s two disparate halves: the earlier segments take place in the wilderness, where the infection takes root, slowly spreading from one person to another. The later segments are more suburban, showing the more advanced stages of the outbreak as it causes widespread chaos.

Some viewers will get a little disoriented by the setup. There are no protagonists or character throughlines; the plague itself is the narrative focal point and the chapters, while tangential, tend to be self-contained. It may help to think of the film as an anthology of several successive shorts.

The first half is naturalistic and more of a slow burn, mostly centering on solo characters encountering the infection while exploring the woods or stumbling upon an affected corpse. The Spore strives to be — and I hate this term, but it paints an accurate picture — a “prestige” horror film. The quietude and sober approach definitely give off this vibe, and for awhile it works pretty effectively.

For this reason the film will certainly draw comparisons to Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth, which treads common ground: it’s similarly a heady horror film set against a pandemic, in the woods, with a moody ambient/electronic score that’s more “vibe” than musicality. Both films are beautifully photographed and naturalistic in their approach.

The second half veers more to a traditional narrative with multiple characters onscreen discussing and reacting to the spreading infection. I feel that it’s here that it started to lose me a bit, which is really the opposite affect of how things should be vibing. By this point in the film, the viewer may be protesting a bit that there’s so little dialogue, but once people start talking you may prefer the earlier silence — for all the film’s apt confidence behind the camera, some of the acting feels a little am-dram, and it doesn’t help that some of the characters make some really dumb choices.

I really did enjoy this film, especially all the body horror stuff, and I get what they were shooting for here with an artsier approach — which, again, mostly works well in the first half. But what’s perhaps most intriguing/frustrating is that there’s an incredible lean, mean horror movie in here somewhere — the one that seemed to be promised in the trailers. With all the amazing effects, body horror, and monsters, and a little less self-seriousness, this could’ve been a crowd-pleaser in the vein of Slither or The Thing.

A/V Out

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