Scientists are sent out to the desert to investigate the area of a strange phenomenon, only to learn that ants are starting to show intelligence. And they're not gonna let humans get away with their cruelty.
This was a total blind buy for me. I know who Saul Bass is, but he's not exactly known for filmmaking, but for graphic design. He's made some truly legendary poster art and title designs. That has literally nothing to do with why I bought this movie though. I bought this because it was cheap, and it seemed like a strange little flick. It wasn't the trippy sci-fi I was longing for, but an actually good movie with plenty of visually pleasing scenes.
10 minutes in you should be pretty aware what you're dealing with. 7 out of those 10 minutes was us following ants, shot in macro, as they start to develop intelligence out of the ordinary. The story is that something other-wordly has happened to a spot in the desert, and two scientists go there to check it out. They evacuate the area, and start observing the buildings nearby. That's when they start noticing the ants behavior. They're no longer just workers, but actually have developed thought as an big entity, and they are not looking to do any favors to the humans that hurt them. One of the families return to the site and die tragically, but a young girl survives. The scientists bring her on board until it's safe for her to get out. Unless the ants get to them first.
The setup sounds like any ant/spider/insect horror movie you've seen before, I'm sure, but "Phase IV" is something else. It's all about the atmosphere, suspense and drama of the event. Not to mention the striking visuals that you'd hope for when Saul Bass is in charge. Some effects which could have been cheesy as hell in any other movie, are all so carefully planned that there's not a moment of cheese in the movie. It's a surprise to me that MST3K has done an episode on this movie.
When any other animal horror would've had scenes of a million ants invading, "Phase IV" has the humans trapped in a lab and about to get boiled alive due to the extreme heat that is rising. Yes, these ants are some cruel motherfuckers! I personally liked it this way, and found more entertainment in the few deaths (that often featured some gnarly shot of ants crawling out of a hand or similar), the great close-up shots of the ants and following our scientists as they try to figure this thing out.
Perhaps not trippy, but "Phase IV" is very much a unique experience. It suffers from many things you'd expect from a 70's production. At times it seems to be on par with TV shows of the same era in quality, but at other times it rises way beyond that with the fantastic style that is carried through-out. The main characters are rock solid and manage to keep us as invested as they are in their job. "Phase IV" should be sought out.