When the first reports of ‘murder hornets’ filtered into the United States, the COVID-19 crisis had already reached a frightening crescendo. Only a few months into the new decade, many were left wondering just how many catastrophes a single year could dish out.
Attack of the Murder Hornets captures the surreal and outlandish vibe of 2020 as it follows one of the year’s most baffling developments: the rise of the Asian giant hornet. Directed by Michael Paul Stephenson, this 2021 nature doc mimics a “true-crime” style documentary, with a touch of campy 1950s horror.
The film uses menacing aesthetics and an ominous musical score to drive home the seemingly ruthless nature of this new invasive species, known to prey on native honeybees in massacres that lay waste to entire colonies. The film’s dramatic gimmick has drawn criticism from some, who view it as an unnecessary and over-the-top approach to a very real threat facing beekeepers and agriculturalists worldwide. While Stephenson tackles the subject with bold style and a healthy sense of humour, the film relies heavily on the expertise of beekeepers and scientists who are working to find a solution.
Stephenson’s film was produced through a collaboration between OJO Entertainment and the Washington Department of Agriculture. Production crews spent a total of six weeks interviewing a number of beekeepers, researchers and WSDA staff as they raced to eliminate the hornets’ hives. In an uncanny case of good timing, filming began just one day before WSDA entomologist Chris Looney captured the first live hornet within the United States.
The WSDA expressed a keen desire to highlight the teamwork between government agencies and the public, in dealing with this new invasive threat. Managing Entomologist Sven Spichiger elaborated on the film’s goal in a prepared statement to the press.
“This film is an opportunity to educate people entertainingly about the work that is being done to prevent Asian giant hornets from establishing in the Pacific Northwest. Viewers will see some great shots of these hornets, and the film does a good job of showing how important the partnership between government agencies and the public has been to this effort.”
While the new year has dawned brighter in many ways, experts believe it will be some time before the US is truly free of the giant hornet threat. At least three years must pass without a sighting before eradication can be deemed a success. While giant hornets are not particularly aggressive towards humans or pets, they pose a grave threat to native honey bees which are already at risk of endangerment. Honey bees face many growing threats including increased use of chemical insecticides, and their endangerment could prove catastrophic for agriculture and food production worldwide.
Stephenson hopes that the film will catch the attention of the public, turning new sets of eyes onto this pressing issue. With the passage of the coronavirus relief bill, US Congress included an allocation for states like Washington to launch eradication pilot programmes. However, actual funds have yet to be appropriated. Stephenson voiced the need for decisive action, stating:
“It could be really serious. If we lose our honey bees, it’s a big deal. It’s the kind of thing where you could be three years down the road, asking: ‘why didn’t we do something about this?'”
Attack of the Murder Hornets is currently available for streaming on Discovery+.