The plot of Attack of the Murder Hornets is reminiscent of a scary murder mystery. But the insects are frightening enough without the addition of horror movie clichés.
Attack of the Murder Hornets, directed by Michael Paul Stephenson, has the feel of a gripping real crime series. To be clear, insects are not inherently evil. One, they lack morality and ethical norms in a human sense. They don’t behave maliciously. They can’t possibly commit murder. However, there is a reason why the Asian giant hornet was dubbed the “murder hornet” in the North American press rather than the “gentle honey bee.” These apex carnivores appear to have flown in from the Carboniferous period.
They can eradicate honeybee colonies in a matter of hours, tearing the tiny pollinators’ torsos in half. In humans, their venom produces excruciating pain at best and death at worst. And when they were discovered this spring in Washington state, the invasion seemed almost demonic. So it’s natural that filmmaker Michael Paul Stephenson’s new film Attack of the Murder Hornets plays like a frightening true-crime story.
The program, which is presently available on Discovery+, begins with some magnificent bloodshed. Ted McFall, a friendly beekeeper from Whatcom County, Washington, gives a terrible account of what occurred to his honeybee hives when hornets invaded his bee farm: mass carnage. McFall becomes choked up when she talks about the unexpected deaths.
As a professional beekeeper who sells honey and beeswax, the emergence of the gigantic Asian hornet on his land was an existential danger, and he couldn’t help but take the loss of his bees personally. Attack of the Murder Hornets follows McFall to join a loose coalition of beekeepers and scientists in the Pacific Northwest. They seek the nests of these invasive insects, rushing to eradicate them before they wreak havoc on the local ecology.
Another participant of this expedition is Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney, a devoted, talkative scientist who hikes through the woods with a net, unafraid of the long odds. Even though the team sets traps, their breakthrough comes from a bit of piece of high-tech equipment: Vikram Iyer, a roboticist, thinks that tracking devices designed for robotic flies could also work on the Asian giant hornet, so the group begins by collecting individual hornets and sticking trackers to their abdomens until one eventually takes them back to the nest.
Despite a series of setbacks, Stephenson’s subjects manage to catch a substantial part of the hornets, including several young queen specimens, which would have spread the issue throughout the region if they had grown up and built their nests. Science does not ultimately save the day, but it does prevent calamity.
Stephenson’s documentary proceeds at the pace of a thriller, and he’s so engaged in the impromptu murder hornet detective team that people speak openly to him. He films their chase from a close-up perspective, capturing gentle moments such as a local youngster sobbing at the sight of a hornet whose wings had been glued together in an attempt to attach the robot tracker. And it’s a lively, enthralling crowd: They’re all out in the woods, driven by either selfless scientific goals or true crusader zeal. (“God help us all if we don’t get rid of this murder hornet,” McFall adds.) The narrative is a gripping ecological race against time with real stakes: when honeybees are threatened, the entire food chain is threatened.
With so much built-in drama, ambiance, and character, Attack of the Murder Hornets doesn’t need to rely as much on its nature-doc-as-crime-doc gimmick, with its sinister music and horror-movie visuals. Most of the experts interviewed are cautious to point out that the insects are not to fault for acting on their impulses. McCall, on the other hand, regrets the fact that he cannot behead every hornet himself.
Conrad Berube, a beekeeper who demolished the first nest discovered in North America, is invited to assist with the task; However, wearing vests embroidered with bees and being respectful of insects, he is dubbed the “trigger man” because of his expertise in eliminating these homes. Despite this, he has no ill will toward the hornets he feels compelled to exterminate. When he sees a queen, he exclaims, “Look how lovely she is.” “There is an ache of being a part of its abolition.” He claims that he assists in the killing of the creatures to safeguard the ecology.
Despite the film’s crime-doc format, the Asian giant hornet is mainly shown as a terrible entity. Such predators are frequently anthropomorphized as evil actors, and people are trained to fear and despise them. Sharks, for example, have suffered considerably as a result of their frightening image. With a moniker like “murder hornet,” the Asian giant hornet has already been transformed into a bug-sized boogeyman in popular culture. Although the title Attack of the Murder Hornets is appealing, the documentary would be more substantial if it spent less time emphasizing how evil and dangerous the insects are. Without wrapping them in horror clichés, their position as an invading species is enough of a clear danger.