Remember those lower budget alien invasion scifi-action or scifi-thriller movies that were a little more about the fun of the action and the plucky protagonists figuring a way to survive or triumph in the face of being overmatched by superior technology and overwhelming odds? Movies like The Arrival with a lone hero against a conspiracy, or like Attack the Block where the outcasts are the ones who’ve got the grit to fight back?
Yes, the blockbusters like Independence Day and Pacific Rim are fun, but their budgets mean we don’t get as many of them to enjoy as some of us would like… which makes finding films like Occupation a treat when they come along.
Our story starts in a rural Australian town, where a conflict exists between the locals farming there and whether or not a highway bypass being built will cause their town to lose out on tourists and business. Our main character is Matt Simmons, a local AFL hero who’s having a few life issues while still recovering from some on-the-field injuries, and the rest of our not-yet-intrepid band of heroes converge upon the town just in time for it’s festival and annual Australian Rules friendly match.
Matt’s girlfriend Amelia Chambers (Stephany Jacobsen) is a nurse, and a strong leader in her own right, someone who just wants to keep her family healthy and safe (including the struggling Matt).
Peter Bartlett (Temeura Morrison) is a father recently released from prison, traveling across country with his family intending to make a fresh start, away from the city and the temptations of his past. His wife is eager for everyone to get along again, but daughter Isabella isn’t in a forgiving mood just yet.
We meet a few other folks along the way, and everyone ends up at the field to watch the exhibition Australian Rules game, with more than a few people worried about Matt’s health and fitness to play this game.
The game itself doesn’t get a chance to get rolling before there’s a complete blackout, cutting all the lights and power and plunging the town into darkness, with nothing to be heard other than a low strange hum in the distance, and unknown lights in the sky coming closer.
Mango farmer Arnold (Charles Mesure) is a military veteran, and his warning gets everyone moving just before energy bolts from strange flying craft begin raining down, and during the bombardment and invasion by armored humanoid creatures, most of the townspeople are captured and taken away, while the rag tag band of people we’ve met band together to escape into the woods, to relative safety and maintaining their freedom.
What starts out as an effort to rescue their captured loved ones (Peter’s wife & daughter, Amelia’s mother and sister) turns into a fight for survival, then into a resistance effort to thwart whatever plan the alien occupiers have in motion.
We follow the group over the course of nearly a year, as they build a base camp, train together, learn how to shoot, fight the aliens, and gather as much information as they can while waiting and hoping for relief or rescue. What they’ve learned will be key when a military excursion stumbles upon their position intent on launching a counter attack against the alien designed to cripple their plans for Earth.
What do the aliens truly want, and why have they been watching our planet for so long? Who will survive and how will life on Earth continue and change?
The biggest appeal for me, besides some of the character development, is that practical effects usage in all the right places give most of the scenes a more lived-in feel, and that makes the smoother additions of the CGI shots of the massive alien craft and installations be able to connect with those feelings of awe the fighters are feeling when they look at them, as well as give a sense of scale to what our heroes are fighting against.
All in all, save for a few sections where the pacing slows and increases the anxiety around hoping the team finds more help or even rescue, this movie is entertaining and engaging, and knowing there’s a sequel already in production makes it easier to be patient for the next chapter in this adventure.
Rating: 3.25 stars
To hear more about the movie, check out the Slice of SciFi interview with writer/director Luke Sparke, and lead actor Dan Ewing
A town is suddenly plunged into darkness. In the sky, a fleet of spaceships appears. The aliens have been watching Earth for centuries; now they have arrived to seize control of our planet. As alien storm troopers cut a deadly swath through the countryside, a ragtag group of townspeople realize they must band together for a chance to strike back at the invaders in this explosive sci-fi film that grips from start to thrilling finish.
Starring: Dan Ewing, Temuera Morrison, Stephany Jacobsen, Rhiannon Fish, Zachary Garred, Izzy Stevens, Charles Terrier, Charles Mesure, Trystan Go, Felix Williamson, Jacqueline McKenzie, Aaron Jeffery, and Bruce Spence
Written by: Luke Sparke
Directed by: Luke Sparke