review for King of the Ants on AllMovie

King of the Ants (2003)
by Jason Buchanan review

Eschewing the fantasy-based Lovecraftian horrors of Re-Animator and Dagon for a decidedly stark meditation on day-to-day violence, longtime director Stuart Gordon successfully shifts gears, and the results are a compelling but often unpleasant psychological revenge drama. As the viewer becomes acquainted with naïve young house painter Sean (Chris McKenna), suspicions regarding his dubious morality and determination to succeed no matter what the cost are slowly cemented though a series of thoughts and actions, including his eager willingness to at first trail -- and ultimately murder -- a nosey city hall accountant. It's a testament to Gordon's skills as a filmmaker -- and essential to the success of the film itself -- that despite Sean's questionable character the audience is still able to identify with him even after he has obviously crossed the line and opted for the slow road to hell. Of course, one can't lay all of the praise for the effectiveness squarely on the shoulders of the filmmaker, and his talented cast was no doubt up to the challenging task of making the characters who draw him into his newfound world of violence as reprehensible as possible. Daniel Baldwin couldn't have been a better choice to cast as Ray, the sleazy building contractor who lures young Sean in with a drunken promise of 13,000 dollars for the hit; and any pleasant memories of a bar "where everybody knows your name" will soon be obliterated from viewers memories forever thanks to George Wendt's performance as Ray's sadistic henchman Duke. As harrowing scenes of torture slowly turn into surreal hallucinations and the tables are eventually turned, the catharsis of witnessing Sean's recovery (including a cruel twist of fate regarding his former victim's wife) and seeing the ruthless bunch get what's coming to them quickly falls by the wayside when, in the films closing moments, he reveals the bleak philosophical motivation behind his chilling transformation. A far cry from Gordon's previous efforts to be sure, but a more thematically mature effort that without question points to exciting things to come from the veteran director.