Studio: IFC Midnight
Director: Jabbar Raisani
Writer: Jabbar Raisani, Blake Clifton
Producer: Laurie Cook, Jason Newmark, Trevor Engelson
Stars: Joe Reegan, Reiley McClendon, Scott Miller, Matthew Holmes, Rick Ravanello, Doug Tait
Ten years after Earth is invaded, two journalists document an infantry squad’s ongoing battle against stranded alien forces at a Middle Eastern military outpost.
By the year 2033, a decade has passed since the first invasion of Earth by a hostile alien race known only as “Heavies.” The main forces have been repelled and the primary fleet has retreated to whatever world from which they came. Still, scattered pockets of stranded alien soldiers litter the landscape, unwavering in their fierce commitment to eradicate humanity and in their deadly desire to strike without warning.
“Alien Outpost” is the tale of what takes place at Outpost 37, one of several formerly fortified bases dedicated to the planet’s protection. Having lapsed into a state of near-abandonment following fatigue from the ongoing interplanetary struggle, two journalists travel to the remote outpost in the DMZ between Pakistan and Afghanistan. There, the documentarians embed themselves with an infantry unit whose assignment is to seek and destroy lingering Heavy warriors in the region. What no one yet knows is that a renewed insurgence has developed fearsome fighting tactics threatening to tilt the balance of power towards the alien army’s favor.
One could read the above and barely begin counting off the outer space invasion and human resistance mashups that “Alien Outpost” sounds like before quickly running out of fingers. It’s an understandable presumption, not at all unjustified, yet perhaps premature if writing the movie off as having nothing to offer in the stylized entertainment department.
Stan Winston Studio staffer and “Game of Thrones” visual effects supervisor Jabbar Raisani settles into the director’s seat for his feature film debut with “Alien Outpost.” Already in possession of a seasoned eye for visual flair with credits like “Fantastic Four” and “Fright Night” dotting his résumé, Raisani taps into earnest enthusiasm from his cast and crew to construct a project counteracting its mimetic premise with the professional passion of an underdog indie effort.
Presented as a faux documentary about the lives of soldiers stationed at a Middle Eastern military outpost, the film fashions itself as a gritty modern warfare action drama with a sci-fi spin sharing more in common with Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” than “District 9” or “Battle: Los Angeles,” despite the description. “Alien Outpost” doesn’t have the checkbook of its blockbuster counterparts, but this isn’t the phoned in work of a made-for-cable “Starship Troopers” clone, either. Not unlike the ragtag brotherhood of assault rifle army men it features, the film knows how to efficiently tackle goals without overreaching scaled down scope or resources, and keeps its near-future fantasy grounded in frontline combat realism during the meantime.
Portions of the fiction are undeniably sketchy. Think on it too long and the harder it is to understand how ten years can pass after a thwarted invasion, yet enough abandoned alien outcasts remain to persistently threaten mankind’s existence. Motiveless, speechless, and barely glimpsed save a few choice battle sequences, the Heavies themselves are about as faceless a villain as any movie can muster, too. Flip over that coin though and clarity comes that the focus is never meant to be on the aliens’ identity, or even the purpose of their conflict. Rather, the average military men at the center of the struggle are what powers the story’s core.
While the script relies on audiences looking ahead willfully instead of peering down quizzically when gaps rear up, the character set leans in a direction of dudebro stereotypes decked in dog tags and wife beaters that run the predictable description gamut from wide-eyed rook to battle-hardened vet. Cut from the same cloth as Schwarzenegger’s platoon in “Predator,” among others, these men burst with that particular brand of cinematic machismo where truncated surnames (e.g. “Mac” for MacNamara and “Brick” for Debrickshaw) provide all the creativity necessary for drafting endearing nicknames.
Yet for all the familiarity inherent in their photocopied biographies, “Alien Outpost” injects a fair deal of context into the routine “guy stuff” to give its Alpha Male collective affable personality. When the boys pull a gag on a newbie using a photo of mom and a centerfold pinup, the stunt reeks of a redundant haw haw about tough guys teasing each other past the point of hazing humor and into offensive insensitivity. Then “Alien Outpost” takes the time to follow up such moments with background, as a lieutenant explains to the pranked private how the men only mean to ensure they can trust him to have their backs, and that he is worth them having his. Scenes like these create a sense of camaraderie making these men believable as a unit that has toured together since well before the opening credits rolled onscreen.
Playing Outpost 37’s commanding officer, Rick Ravanello comes fresh from “Dark Haul” (review here), where he played a similarly stoic squarejaw who doesn’t speak so much as bark through grinding molars. Chewing charcoal chunks in his throat with a cigarette in one hand while the other grips a sidearm, the difference here is that Ravanello puts on a performance subtly different enough from the relative silliness of a Syfy channel creature feature to deliver a tinge of genuinely grim gravity. That’s a hat tip to the direction for pitching performances at a tone where the military action feels authentic because the actors take the fiction seriously.
Occasionally spotty digital blood sprays and muzzle flash animations don’t always work, although the impressive fireworks and generous gunfire keep the action frenzied while committed acting maintains the energy. There might be some meaning missing as a meaty fight-for-survival narrative, but “Alien Outpost” ticks plenty of boxes for bullet-pumping action with a satisfying shot of sci-fi tracer fire laser-lighting the screen.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 75