Great visuals can't save this alien horror film from its miserable characters.
Julian Richings is one of those actors everyone recognizes, though when asked to name one of his many credits, it’s easy to draw a blank. This isn’t because he isn’t known for his excellent acting abilities, no one without talent could have made their way through so many film and TV projects without it, but when looking at Richings it’s clear he can also attribute some of his success to his unique semblance. With a long and chiseled face, and wiry frame, Richings fits the bill for almost any outsider a writer can dream up. Starring in the sci-fi horror film Ejecta, it would be easy to assume Richings was primarily cast for perhaps his literal alien-like look. And while those staring eyes and smothered nose are well-suited to the film, the majority of the film’s oomph lies in Richings’ delivery, and in fact the film’s most obvious flaw is that unfortunately, Richings isn’t the only one in this film. Otherwise Ejecta is a sharp-looking sci-fi with some jump-able moments, but with some especially embryonic characters.
The film’s director Chad Archibald (who has a host of other low-grade horror under his belt) and Matt Wiele are no strangers to Richings’ talents having worked with him before. Written by Tony Burgess (Pontypool, Septic Man), the film is split into two side by side timelines. The first is video footage of Bill Cassidy (Richings), astronomer and professed alien abductee, as interviewed by Joe Sullivan (Adam Seybold) at his secluded home. Brought to the country-side by Bill, Joe hopes for an inside scoop on the elusive Bill Cassidy and to hear more about his experiences with aliens as well as observe a coronal ejection set to occur that evening. Cassidy tells his abduction story, passionate with the insanity it has left in him, sleep-deprived and PTSD-stricken. Otherwise he says as little as possible, giving Joe long meaningful looks when asked outright questions. A clear ploy to delay until the real action begins. Cut to a dark dungeon-like room with dramatic lighting and large metal chair. Cassidy sits in this chair, locked to it. A couple of soliders taunt him and are quickly silenced by the resident boss-lady, Dr. Tobin (Lisa Houle). With no fanfare and a softly sweet voice that betrays just how sinister she must be, she asks Bill for his cooperation in answering questions about what happened earlier in the evening. Her demeanor giving away that she has no intentions of playing fair.
Thus begins a back and forth between seeing what has just occurred leading up to Cassidy’s capture and imprisonment, and his current state of torture by Dr. Tobin for information. If Richings fits the crazy-scientist style weirdo—or let’s be honest, it fits him—then it would be easy to consider him the most predictable and stock-like of Ejecta’s characters. But no, that top honor goes to Houle as Tobin, whose militant without a cause is the epitome of the unnecessarily angry villain. The film leads toward a slow convergence of its two story-lines—a well-forecasted inevitability—but anyone thinking that the film’s climax will bring with it some insight into the evil Dr. Tobin will be sorely disappointed. Dr. Tobin is the sort of villain who asks at the opening of her interrogation for her subject to cooperate but offers nothing in return. And of course the thing is, if she’d asked nicely, offered some explanation, she might just have gotten the info she wants. She might also have saved our rapidly waning interest.
Once it becomes clear Tobin won’t be cluing us into her own personal motivations for her erratic and crazy behavior (at one point she chooses to shoot one of her own soldiers), we cease to care that she’s doing any of this at all. Our curiosity for what actually happened that evening sustains us through a fair amount of the film, but once the obvious happens it’s hard not to think, “Ok, what else?” Tobin hardly questions Cassidy’s imperviousness to her torture, especially his response to an early device that literally drills holes in his head but doesn’t kill him. Her decision to ignore the obvious is baffling. But then again she has soldiers out exploring (displayed out on the screens in front of her) who report back to her with things like “this goo is inhuman” and “it’s gotta be extraterrestrial.”
Ok, Burgess. We get it. We’re watching an alien film. We sort of got that when you opened the film on Cassidy relaying his abduction story. Tobin seems to be the only one who doesn’t realize she’s very much in the middle of an alien film, however. Constantly she harrows on about “getting answers” but without any revealed motivation, or any revelations into who she works for—other than the usual vague reference to dealing with aliens back in the ’60s—it’s hard to know why she is doing any of this. Considering her quest for alien life, she is especially oblivious when she finally comes in contact with it. I’d say her character is one-dimensional except that would give her even a leg to stand on. She’s not even given especially good dialogue, monologuing at Cassidy for whole scenes and at one point saying, and I quote, “it’s just you, me, and the end of the world” and makes an especially bizarre comment about Cassidy “squealing like a dog, while they stuff you like a pig.” It’s supposed to be a threat, I guess, but I can’t get past the part where dogs don’t squeal, pigs do, in which case maybe a turkey would make for a better metaphor?
The visuals stand out, and were clearly meant to, as though the filmmakers always intended this one to be for snapshots not overall appeal. The music is beyond distracting, a constant techno thumping that starts at 11 and gives itself nowhere to build. The home video recording timeline is at many times very dark and hard to make out. Mostly it’s yet another found-footage style scenario where it’s really hard not to question why someone would be filming when their life is on the line.
There are elements of Ejecta that work, mostly that for at least a little under half the film it manages to pique curiosity and certainly has a florid visual aesthetic, but the distraction of enormous holes in the key characters keeps one from actual enjoyment of the film. If they’d angled to be more of a horror than a sci-fi, it would be easier to forgive. Chris Nolan and his ilk are proving audiences like smarter sci-fi and with something as outdone as alien films, the need is even greater to hold interest. Ejecta orbits close to amusing, but never lands.
In theaters and on VOD Friday Feb. 27th