Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Feast of the Praying Mantis

Feast of the Praying Mantis (2003)
Critter: Mantoidia sapiens var. plantii
Size: About 5 feet 8 inches tall
Modus Operandi: Woos victims with a bouquet of flowers, then sexes them to death
How the Menace Emerges: A mystery. Apparently this species is only found in the south (in Belgium I presume), but exists throughout time as illustrated by the lamest epilogue scene I’ve ever seen.
End Goal: Sex and death

The Feast of the Praying Mantis is a different kind of terrible bug film than I’m used to. Rather than settling comfortably into being a slow, Euro-art film or a cheeky B-movie, it attempts to straddle the line of both, achieving nothing by its compromise. The film is about Sylvia (Get it? She’s a nature girl because her name means “of the forest”! Yawn!) an immortal, critter who seems to be a hybrid between a humanoid, a vine and a praying mantis. She can talk to Doberman pincers and plants, likes to have tarantulas walk on her and is an excellent gardener. Oh, and she’s also really into S & M. The plot is carried out through the barbiturate-induced voiceover of her bewitched, cello-playing boyfriend who is willing to anything to actually sleep with her. In the first line of the film, we learn that he is dead, while near the end, he tells us that he’s in oblivion. Who knew that they could record droll voiceovers from oblivion? Add to the mix a bit of bad and pointless CGI (a dove bursting into flames and a swarm of green dots that please Sylvia for no apparent reason), superfluous melodrama from subsidiary characters and tedious sex scenes, and you have a big waste of time.

Nit-picking Science: There’s no science in Feast of the Praying Mantis for me to pick apart, so instead, I’ll just talk a bit about Fabre. The film opens with a quote from Jean Henri Fabre’s incredible 1921 work Fabre’s Book of Insects. Fabre was an observant naturalist and an excellent writer, and his Book of Insects is a wonderfully written look at some of the most intriguing critters he studied. While the language is too anthropomorphic to pass for science in today’s standards and much of his observations have been disproved, it is a delightful read nonetheless. Talking of the praying mantis, Fabre said “The Mantis, I fear, has no heart. She eats her husband, and deserts her children.” Now that’s the film I wanted to see.

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