Phase I — An event in space prompts predictions of doom. The effect is most profound on the insects. Dr. Hubbs, a biologist, notices that ants of different species are meeting, communicating, cooperating, making decisions, which is unheard of.
Then we get a couple of minutes of nothing but ants crawling around. And ya know what — it’s pretty good. Different species, drones, queens, babies, all coming together like a subterranean Diversity Fair.
Dr. Hubbs also notices the disappearance of natural ant predators such as the mantises, millipedes, beetles and spiders. We understand why when we witness a take-down of a spider by a swarm of ants. Obviously, Hubbs predicts a huge increase in the number of ants. He proposes a government program to study the problem. For once, I agree.
Hubbs recruits another scientist — James Lesko — to examine an area in Arizona where strange monoliths have arisen. Then they go to a grassy field where sheep have been killed by insects. They talk to the last farmer in the area who is creating a gasoline moat which he will set on fire if the ants get too close.
Phase II — A facility has been constructed. After a couple of weeks of no activity from the ants, Hubbs blows up a few monoliths. This gets the ants moving and they attack the farmer’s horse and then the house. The farmer lights his gas moat, shoots the horse, then they flee the farm, ending up at the facility. Sadly, they are killed by a deluge of yellow insecticide the scientists disburse after the ants disrupt their power. Except for the daughter Kendra who managed to find shelter through a cellar door — to the cellar of this pre-fab metal shack in the desert, I guess. The ants also manage to blow up the scientist’s truck.
The next day, after the ants adapt to the yellow poison, they build some sort of reflective surface to reflect the sun’s rays at the facility to raise the temperature. Lesko tries to call for help, but ants in the radio have shorted it out.
Hubbs turns up the air conditioner, and Lesko creates a high-pitched noise which crumbles the mounts. Unfortunately, the ants are way ahead of them and chew through the wiring in the air conditioning unit.
Phase III — On a monitor, they see a mouse get swarmed by ants and stripped to the bone. They begin searching for the queen. For some reason, Kendra goes outside with no shoes and is bitten. Then Hubbs goes out with no shoes to kill the queen, but falls into a pit and is swarmed by the ants. That leaves Lesko to go smoke out the queen.
He goes out to a giant anthill and throws in a canister. He then slides down into the hole himself, sliding down to the bottom. Strangely, the bottom of the anthill has a perfectly square entrance into another chamber. There he sees Kendra rise from the dirt, alive but changed by the ants in ways we do not know.
There is a lost ending posted on YouTube which adds a psychedelic coda to the film. It combines the the incoherence of the 2001 light show with the dream-like imagery of Spellbound (not the one about the spelling bee).
- Ironically this was the only movie directed by Saul Bass, who made his name creating distinctive movie credits — and it has no opening credits.
- There is bit-part royalty in this film: The farmer is played by Alan Gifford who was Gary Lockwood’s father in 2001. His wife is played by Helen Horton who was the voice of Mother in Alien.
- There was an unrelated movie titled Phase IV released in 2002. Really, out of all the Phases, you had to pick IV?
- “If ants weighed 40 lbs, we’d all be in chains” — Ron Bennington
- MST3K offered insect repellent advice during their episode of this film: “When you’re out in the woods, you can’t beat Off.”