It Came from the Desert (2017) Directed by Marko Makilaakso. Starring Mark Arnold, Vanessa Grasse and Harry Lister Smith. During an extreme sports festival in the New Mexican desert, a group of motorcyclists and others battle murderous alien ants grown to gigantic size by corporate genetic tampering.
Like so many other “the government does something stupid” movies before it, “It Came From The Desert” begins with a lab specimen breaking out of confinement. In this case, it’s a hybrid species of ant created with extraterrestrial DNA harvested from a fallen meteor.
At the outset of the film, they are about 10 feet long and extremely unfriendly. Out in the dunes, two Spanish speaking fellas robbing a mine of copper become victims of the creatures.
We then meet Brian, the somewhat nerdy motorcycle mechanic who idolizes John Cage, a B-level action film star who plays a violent hero called The Eradicator. Brian is the partner of racer Lukas, your typical jock motorhead. Lukas is busy trying to get the shy Brian to hook up with Lisa, his dream girl, and motorcycle enthusiast. Opportunity for such a romantic entanglement arrives in the form of a massive celebration in the desert involving races and beers. Lisa is also a huge Cage fan, and the actor is attending the festival as a celebrity judge.
On the drive through dusty desert roads to the party in Lucas’s pickup truck, Lucas spies other motorcyclists deliberately egging him on by performing stunts. They are the villainous Valeska brothers.
He shocks Lisa and Brian by suddenly climbing out the driver’s side window and disengaging his bike from the rear cargo bed. He drops down into the sand and gives chase. Later, amongst revelers, we learn that Brian prefers to go it alone.
While brooding some distance away from the party, he finds the abandoned truck left behind by the eaten mine thieves. He and Lukas discover a cave near the vehicle leading to a ruined fence belonging to Chicane Industries, a military-industrial corporation with ties to millions of domestic products on the market. Investigating further, the boys find a laboratory left vacant and hidden by canyon walls. Within, they uncover slimy egg pods that have freshly ejected their occupants. And finally, they witness a fully grown monster ant foraging for food.
While hiding in the laboratory kitchen while the massive ant searches the countertops above them, Lukas blurts out:
“This is some straight up Jurassic Park shit. This is JUST like Jurassic Park.”
He then loudly cracks open a beer, alerting the creature to their presence. As it moves in for the kill, Lisa ends up saving the boys from being ant food. They stare in awe at her as she plunges an axe repeatedly into the monster’s bulbous noggin. On the wall next to her is a large caution sign:
Warning: Giant Ants Are Dangerous.
Soon after, the rest of the car-sized colony shows up to terrorize the trio. They find a video by Dr. John Renard, one of the scientists who spliced spider and fire ant DNA with samples taken from a meteor that crashed in the canyons in 1951.
In order to prevent the creatures from breeding, Renard encoded a limitation into their genes: they cannot reproduce with the presence of ethanol.
Brian and Lukas high five each other, thinking they’ve won. Lisa brings them back to reality.
“Do you guys not realize what ethanol is?”
Back at the party zone, a guy wearing a vodka-filled tank on his back sprays the liquor into waiting glasses as revelers do shots or crack open beers around him. As a bartender switches out an empty beer keg, he notices an insectoid arm nab a full keg and sneak it into a storage area.
Eventually, the monsters attack en masse and the action kicks into high gear. One of the Valeska brothers is dragged off, and the other takes off. After Lisa is kidnapped by one of the beasts and taken to the newly formed breeding colony, Brian and Lukas man up and go in after her. This act of bravery leads them to Dr. Renard, who is now heavily armed. He offers the boys experimental weapons that specialize in ant killing, and special armored bodysuits.
“Ants are incredibly resident creatures. All we did was splice them with alien DNA and grow them to supersize.”
“Oh, is that ALL?!”
Based on the 1989 Cinemaware PC video game of the same title, “It Came From The Desert” not only has a few laughs, it boasts some impressive CGI monsters for a low budget film. The ants, in short, look pretty amazing and move in a fun Harryhausen cadence. In terms of technical sophistication, this is beyond the sort of cheesy dreck the SyFy Channel traffics in.
In a nod to the game, Lukas and Brian take over a computer controlled gun array and blast a few ants to death. There are welcome references to classics, as well, such a scene that intentionally mirrors Aliens. And the two leads reference the Avengers and more.
Ten minutes in, and you already know three things:
1) The only thing that can truly stop the insect horde is blazing hot motocross stunts.
2) Brian and Lisa will find romance amongst the monster carnage.
3) The climactic battle will be like Bill & Ted meets “Tremors.”
You know what it is, but more importantly, IT knows what it is. It’s the sort of unpretentious flick that wears a sense of guilty pleasure fun on its sleeve.