Real events inspire fiction, but sometimes what happens in the natural world is far more frightening than any horror filmmaker’s imagination.
Enter Michael Paul Stephenson, who read The New York Times story last spring about the Asian hornets making their way to North America. It was all part of the layer cake of awfulness that the year 2020 baked up.
But he had an idea.
Relocating his family, Stephenson put together research for a documentary that followed the efforts of the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s exhaustive hunt for the Asian giant hornet.
He pitched the documentary film, Attack of the Murder Hornets to Discovery+. They bit, and the film will keep you awake if you are a coastal resident — east or west — of the United States or Canada.
Attack of the Murder Hornets review
This film and Stephenson’s subjects were part of the Television Critics’ Association panel for this film, and the truth was not welcome news. These hornets have no natural enemy other than humans, and if a person is trying to kill one without protective wear, forget it.
Footage of necrotized flesh wounds from Asia was the proof given.
If not for observant beekeepers in Washington and these deputized citizen scientists that included Ted McFall and Ruthie Danielsen, the Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney would have been out of luck.
McFall himself found his beloved hive of 60,000 honey bees decapitated.
Their joint collaborative efforts lead to the discovery of the first murder hornets’ nest in the USA.
A former actor-turned-filmmaker, Stephenson was given the go from streaming giant Discovery+ to make this film. His framing and visual timeline feel it has a Cloverfield vibe.
But the film focuses more on Looney’s frustrations and small victories that lead to the discovery of a nest found in a tree. Normally, murder hornets are ground nesters, so they are adaptive in their behavior, and that fact is also chilling.
The film is not sensationalist in the information it gives, but the way it is stitched together builds extreme anxiety.
Will they find the nest? And when they do, how to safely remove it. In between, we are given up-close-and-personal visuals of an insect who sprays blinding venom and can repeatedly sting and even bite a chunk of flesh out of a person with its mandibles.
We learn some Asian countries call them Yak killers. Yaks have thick hides and hair, and humans have none of that protection. In short, if you are attacked by more than one of these hornets, you could easily die.
Looney employed DIY traps and spreading the word among farmers and locals to see if anyone came across the insect. In a shocking moment, one man’s home video shows what looks to be a bird (hornet) buzzing the camera. The progression from that moment we will not spoil for you, but the chase is on.
Stephenson gives us the timeline of how the hornet made it first to Canada. Washington was next.
The film underscores how we are reliant as a species on honeybees’ work and how important they are to the ecosystem. If the bees in North America have no defense as their Asian counterparts have by smothering the hornets, we are in for it.
Attack of the Murder Hornets exclusive preview
Make sure this film is part of your weekend slate, as the work by some courageous scientists is the defense wall between you and a genuine threat.
Exclusively watch the first U.S. sighting segment preview below.
Attack of the Murder Hornets premieres on Discovery+ Feb. 20.