The Horror Honeys: Masters of Horror: The Screwfly Solution

Masters of Horror: The Screwfly Solution

A Guest Sci-Fi Honey Review - by Katie

The Screwfly Solution (2006)

Deeming ourselves a ‘superior’ race, human beings have become practiced in identifying lesser ‘pest’ species, and if necessary, exterminating them from this planet.  But what if someone else were observing us in this petri dish we call Earth, and deemed us the pests, poised for a mass extinction?  Based on the short story by sci-fi writer James Tiptree Jr., The Screwfly Solution is a taut, chilling entry in Showtime’s Masters of Horror series directed by Joe Dante of Gremlins fame, which attempts to confront this question.

After an amusing but altogether disturbing opening depicting a man who has just slaughtered every female member of his family, we are introduced to a pack of characters who immediately begin arguing the underlying themes of the film: we live in a largely patriarchal society; some cultures, especially in the Middle East, continue to subjugate women; religious fanaticism guides and often excuses misogynistic attitudes, even in the “Christian” west.  These debates are led by Bella (Linda Darlow), an agent of the National Institutes of Health; her friend Anne (Kelly Norton), administrator of a battered women’s shelter, and Anne’s free-spirited teenaged daughter Amy (Brenna O’Brien), spurred by a news report on Sharia Law to bemoan gender inequality.  Amy likes to dress provocatively and is encouraged by Bella to let her feminist freak flag fly; only later will that expression of feminine pride put a deadly target squarely on her and every other woman in the proximity of a man.

Enter Jason Priestley (yes, Brandon Walsh) and his baby blues to reunite with his wife Anne and daughter Amy; in tow, too, is veteran actor Elliot Gould as Barney, Priestley’s partner in Entomology.  The pair are recognized as scholars in their field for their advent of the “screwfly solution”: the systematic chemical castration of deadly male cane flies that will eradicate the species’ population in rainforest nations, thereby saving millions of livestock and communities whose lives depend on them.  Bella alludes of what’s to come with her disgust upon hearing about their experiment: “we mess with nature because we can, and someday it’ll come back on us.”  Ding ding ding!  Haven’t these people seen a horror film, especially those rooted in science fiction, where this point is driven home time and again?

What follows is an airborne outbreak of religious fervor spreading from Jordan (hey, the Middle East again) in a westerly direction to Southern California now infecting human males, causing them to lash out at women who excite their libidos – turning every husband, friend, and father into a potential murderer.  Amy’s sexy attire draws catcalls from construction workers in what is now a prelude to homicidal rage, and every leering sidelong glance from a heterosexual male is an inciting event to being stabbed in the gut, mowed down with a car, or having your neck forcibly broken (seriously, women have it super rough in this film).  With women being killed in droves, Brandon Walsh and his bug partner experiment with castrating human males and urge all females to move North above the trajectory of the spread of the disease.  Anne and Amy take refuge in Canada, learning to defend themselves from men at any cost. 

Despite the far-reachedness of the plot, the film draws on very real fears from the abuse of power from the “dominant” male gender (and the war between the sexes that ensues), widespread incurable disease, displaced trust in authority figures, and the effects of global warming and species annihilation in the name of “progress.”  These are big, thought-provoking issues which feel rushed at times in the brief hour-long runtime of the film, the passage of many months breezing by with inter-titles and awkward static transitions.  This issue coupled with the way the film is shot – at times shaky, on handheld digital camera – makes the film feel more suited to a television miniseries format than a wholly cinematic effort.  Everything depicted is done well with menace and meaning (even the ‘science-speak’ seems credible), but it would have been nice to take more time exploring these issues, especially that of gender inequality – doubly interesting when you consider that the author of the short story, James Tiptree Jr., was actually a woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon.

Dante has trod the sci-fi path before in films like Innerspace and Twilight Zone: The Movie and has always managed to inject a sense of humor in his work; however, despite a somewhat disappointing conclusion, The Screwfly Solution presents an utterly dystopian view of the future of mankind, with no recourse other than to atone for the way we have similarly treated “lesser” species for centuries.   With the possible exception of Priestley (I’m sorry, he will never not be Brandon Walsh), who doesn’t seem to have the complete command his role requires, all actors involved are up to par in delivering a competent script and injecting unease into the most mundane of everyday situations. The Screwfly Solution is not the best, but is certainly a worthy instalment in what is often a hit-and-miss series.