Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #228
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 21 September 2008 (Fantastic Fest, Austin)
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Ben Rock
Producers: Tony Krantz, Daniel Myrick, John Shiban, Steve Ecclesine
Screenplay: Julia Fair, David Simkins
Special Effects: Mark Koivu, Graham Denman
Visual Effects: Thomas D. Moser, Dan Schmit
Cinematography: Walt Lloyd
Score: Kays Al-Atrakchi
Editing: Augie Hess
Studio: Flame Ventures, Warner Home Video, Raw Feed
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Stars: Carlos Bernard, Mathew St. Patrick, Rockmond Dunbar, Courtney Ford, Jeffrey Licon, Samantha Streets, Derek Basco, Bonita Friedericy, Bryan Krasner, Keith Hudson, Joel McCrary, Joseph Steven Yang, Philip Newby, Tom Kiesche, Laura Cordova, Travis Guba
Suggested Audio Candy:
Two little fishes and five loaves of bread. We all know how it goes. Sometimes the best surprises come from the most unlikely of sources and lack of resources doesn’t always equate to lack of quality. One stellar example of this is Ben Rock’s Alien Raiders, an ambitious project shot in a mere fifteen days and for a budget of around $2,000,000 which it stretches to the nth degree. It won Best Feature at 2008’s HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland without once name-dropping the master. Instead it focused on capturing the essence of his work and moving it to a contemporary setting.
Alien Raiders is undoubtedly the best film yet to emerge from Raw Feed who were responsible previously for Believers, Rest Stop and its sequel, Sublime and Otis. While budgetary constraints are evident on occasion, Rock does a marvelous job of pulling the wool over our eyes and manages to give us an insular setting which doesn’t feel for one picosecond like it is restrictive. His dimly lit cinematography is surprisingly sharp and, coupled with a genuinely smart script, it becomes easy to forget that this was made for $2m.
The first thing that Rock does right is the casting of recognizable TV personalities in Carlos Bernard (24) and Matthew St Patrick (Six Feet Under) in the leading roles. The second masterstroke is that the director assumes that we’ve all watched countless other films of its ilk previously and sidesteps any laborious set-up and needless back story in favor of dropping us straight into the action. The third is Julia Fair and David Simkins’ screenplay which doesn’t need an abundance of moolah to offer genuinely appealing dialogue and well-drawn characters.
In truth, Alien Raiders is barely a horror flick at all. It plays out more like a siege movie and there are only occasional flashes of anything resembling horror. It centers on a mismatched group of shoppers and skivvies at a local supermarket in Arizona which is suddenly overrun with masked assailants. What initially appears to be a generic robbery soon transmogrifies into something much darker as their ‘spotter’ begins to deduce which of the hostages is malignant and which benign. The infection which manifests is left unclear for the first act as the numbers begin to get whittled down.
There are vague similarities with John Carpenter’s titular The Thing in that we have no clue as to who is a carrier and the gunmen are forced to carry out their own tests in order to sort the wheat from the chaff. Although it initially offers a tense triangle between criminals, civilians and aliens soon turns on its head as it becomes clear that the thugs in question aren’t anything like as mean-spirited as it first appears. They are friends as well as associates and when one of their number perishes they show empathy rather than indifference.
The performances are universally solid although Barnard and St Patrick shine brightest as the leader of the rebels and hostage negotiator with his own vested interest in making sure the bodies don’t hit the floor. Any tête-à-têtes between the pair are both believable and intelligent and, while both actors are undoubtedly talented, you’re only as good as the lines you’re reading and it could have been entirely different with a less perceptive script. Also impressive is Rockmond Dunbar (Prison Break, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) as no-nonsense Kane who begins as asshole and ends up a far more likeable asshole.
Alien Raiders caught me somewhat off-guard. I did enter with certain expectations as I was aware how well it was received upon its release but the title suggests a cheap, cheerful B-Movie and it is a completely different creature entirely. Rock proves himself to be a bright future prospect by making a genre flick which punches effortlessly above its weight whilst never looking like it’s in the wrong division.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Grue is used sparingly and it is here that the lack of funds is most apparent. That’s not to say that Alien Raiders doesn’t have its fair share of grisly FX but much of the violence is fleeting and often obscured by the darkly lit interiors. Nevertheless, the effects are very well done indeed.
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