A war-style mockumentary with the occasional alien fails to intrigue in any way.
War, what is it good for? Well, apparently for a generally reliable genre of film in which to insert characters and hope the lofty setting alone will garner some respect. Except if wars have happened since the dawn of man, then the devices of this genre have also worn some heavy grooves over time, and Alien Outpost slips into every one of them. Thoroughly confused how what you assumed to be a sci-fi film is actually a clichéd army film? My bewilderment mirrored yours, believe me. Alien Outpost is an almost disrespectful war mockumentary with a smidgen of sci-fi.
Granted, taking this sort of film all that seriously is to put too much effort into the whole affair, but the level at which the film abuses war stereotypes is hard to ignore when not much else is happening on-screen. The film, directed by effects guru Jabbar Raisani, is shot documentary style (though with an inordinately unbelievable amount of good angles and coverage, if you get distracted by things like that, as I do) and provides insight into the lives of the soldiers placed at Outpost 37 in the year 2031. It’s been 10 years since aliens invaded earth, wreaking mass destruction and death. A brief montage of news clips and narration clue us in on the history of the initial attack and mankind’s fight back. We chased them away, but a few stayed on earth, hanging out in a demilitarized zone in the middle east. This is where Outpost 37 lies.
The men of the outpost are each given screen time (on a sound stage strangely enough, no explanation provided) to be interviewed and offer some back story. Each of them seems to represent some sort of soldier cliché. The one attached to his mother. The one who fights for his fallen brother. The ones representing their home countries proudly. The jokester. The two besties who went through boot camp together. Everyone has a nickname and everyone thinks—despite the almost constant state of attack they are under—that the whole thing is a fun excuse to shoot some ammo. Other than these brief interviews, and a few scenes making sure we understand how casual and buddy-buddy the soldiers are—except their leader, General Dane (Adrian Paul), who is of course always intimidatingly serious—the film is almost entirely a shaking camera of gun fire and men with bazookas, machine guns, and in other modes of military combat.
There are too many characters to really learn anyone’s name, but the losses come soon and often, without much incentive to mourn them. Within all this chaos one would think there’d be plenty of sci-fi action as well, however the armored aliens, or “Heavies” as they are called, appear on-screen midway through the film and then pop up sporadically and with hardly a straightforward look as the camera throughout the film is as shaky as they could possibly make it. I will say what we do see of the aliens is quite impressive. As visual effects supervisor for Game of Thrones, and plenty of other effects experience under his belt, Raisani stretches his budget and the glimpses we get are noteworthy. But he does the film (and his own skills) a huge disservice not giving us more. A rushed ending provides some spectacular visuals, but the plot is so confusing and goes so quickly it’s hard to focus long enough to appreciate it. Clearly Raisani did not understand who his main subject ought to have been.
There are a couple of so-called plot twists, but with so little investment they too seem to get lost in the jostle and action. The film seems determined not to be a big metaphor for Middle Eastern warfare, to the extent of overstating just how much the locals in the area are also at the mercy of the Heavies, and yet first-time writers Blake Clifton and Raisani chose just such a location. In all the world of places aliens could hole up, it feels distinctly contrived.
All in all those looking for an adrenaline fueled action sci-fi film will undoubtedly be bored by the constant interruption of the documentary film and the serious lack of aliens. Those looking for an innovative war film with an interesting new enemy will be nauseated by the constant sway of the well-manned, documentary crew’s cameras. Whatever target Alien Outpost was aiming for, it missed entirely. A surprising feat with such considerable ammo.
Alien Outpost releases in select theaters on Friday, January 30th.