Invasion Earth (2016)

Director: Steven M. Smith, James Twyman

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Starring: Phoebe Delikoura, Jon-Paul Gates, Nigel Thijs, David Shaw, Darren James King, Charlotte Gould, Colette Hughes, Sammy Johnston

My review of Invasion Earth was first published at Bloody Good Screen.

Beginning with an Arthur C. Clarke quote about whether we’re alone in the universe, the film moves onto a duo who discover an imminent alien invasion. Once this introductory set-up ends, we transition over to self-help guru Dr. Carson (David Shaw). He’s travelled to his new facility with eight troubled youths, intending to help each of them through their problems, and integrate them back into society. Not helping things are an invading force from outer-space, who begin their hostile take-over.

It’s understandable that writer, director, and producer James Twyman would want to shift the focus after the opening, and cast a light on the human element, to know who these characters are before getting down to the sci-fi thrills. Sadly, it doesn’t come off that way. The end result feels like an addiction drama inspired by numerous indie darlings, with alien invasion elements forcibly crammed in. By the time a cartoonish TV personality pops up, intent on having a pissing contest with the guru, one wonders if two separate films were spliced together. With so much time spent on the personal demons of these youths, the opening scene just feels rather pointless.

Of all the youths, the focus is given to one above the others, and that’s Derek. From the word go, he lets off a number of racist slurs to make it clear what kind of person he is, as though the swastika on his neck, seemingly drawn on with a felt-tip pen, was too subtle for audiences. In portraying the character, Darren James King channels Clint Eastwood, in that he awkwardly talks to a chair. For better or worse, you get the sense the cast are trying, but they can only do so much with what they’re given.

As much as the film tries getting to the heart of Derek, one wishes the other characters got nearly as much exploration. They each have their own issues clawing away at them, such as drug addiction, survivors’ guilt, and gender identity, but they all feel secondary to redeeming the racist. It’s especially insulting that the only person of colour in the cast is there to be victimised by the bigot, and then to forgive him. Ultimately, Tyrone just feels like a prop included to affect Derek’s personal growth.

Throughout the story, the film tries to incorporate more alien elements, but they can’t help feeling so intrusive. Believe it or not, a purple light and a Poundland attempt at a Hans Zimmer score don’t make for a seamless transition. Such subtleties are held onto in the third act, when the so-far bloodless affair suddenly starts racking up the body count, and the shift to brutality is really jarring. Most troubling, though, is how so many deaths occur before our eyes, and we’re left unfeeling by it all. It doesn’t feel like we’ve followed characters who we can care about, but cattle led to the slaughter who keep making bone-headed decisions. In the absence of this emotion, my eye caught how one-scene suddenly adopted Bourne style shaky-cam, as though it was a last-minute flourish the filmmakers wanted to try. There’s nothing left for the film to do but limp to the finish line, so everybody can move on in peace.