PLOT: During an apocalyptic fallout after Earth was invaded by aliens in 2021, a documentary crew follows a band of soldiers in the middle-east as they try to quell the alien resistance and rescue a captured comrade.
REVIEW: After toiling away for more than a decade on big-budget visual FX (PREDATORS, FRIGHT NIGHT, Game of Thrones, etc.) - not to mention writing and directing a pair of short films of his own last decade - American filmmaker Jabbar Raisani has taken a pretty entertaining if subtle antiwar stance in his independent feature debut in ALIEN OUTPOST - a well acted, well paced docu-style sci-fi-combat-flick. Derivative, sure, hardly original (or even memorable) in any substantial manner, but it's not so much the conception as it is the execution that makes ALIEN OUTPOST one worthy of a watch. No doubt, if you dig harrowing war-torn action of heavy artillery met with the imminent threat of alien incursion - OUTPOST 37 (as it was previously titled) is likely your desired destination. If that's you, what's your major malfunction numbnuts...sign-up and ship-out at once!
A portentous black title card begins the picture, exhorting us that Earth has been invaded by a malefic alien race in the year 2021. It's utter chaos, the world's in abject disarray, every nation for itself. In fact, the UN has disbanded altogether and been replaced by the USDF - The United States Defense Force - which has deployed a bevy of military outposts around the globe. The human resistance to the incursion (military) resulted in the alien-mother-ship retreating in 2022, but there are still a good 100,000 or so deadly E.T.s out and about. The Heavies, as the bulkily armed alien warriors are called, are disbursed throughout, sans central command, with the ability to strike from anywhere at any time. With the aforementioned background in Hollywood FX work, Raisani has put together some pretty impressive large-scale action sequences on a diametrically opposite shoestring budget. The explosions, combat scenes and skyline FX is work is for the most part visually plausible and germane to the storyline. However, I wasn't too much of a fan of the actual aliens in this flick, which to me resembled more of a goofily uncoordinated, evil-eyed transformer...really not very menacing in the slightest. Still, the horrors of war feel real, even if it's less of a scary movie than outright sci-fi action joint.
But our story concerns Outpost 37, which has granted access to documentary camera crew to follow along and chronicle everyday living under such harsh conditions. 207 soldiers have died over the last decade at Outpost 37. Stationed in a deserted region somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Outpost 37 is led by Commander Spears (Rick Ravanello) and includes a likeable enough ragtag assemblage of mostly priapic alpha-dogs: the ball-busting medic, young gun Hollis, the pussy-hound Andros (Reiley McClendon), the gruff take-no-shit North (Matthew Holmes) and of course - rookies Frankie (Sven Ruygrok) and Omohundro (Joe Reegan). When North suddenly goes missing, Commander Spears order the troop to infiltrate enemy lines on a mission to find him. As you might imagine from there, shite gets hectic!
So we cut between their high-alert advances - replete with jurisdictional tension among defense contractors and local anti-US insurgents - and a series of one-on-one black-screen confessionals, in true documentary style, during which our soldiers recount the various details of their mission since the First Invasion. And honestly, this latter part is where I think the movie's heart is, as it offers a real chance for the actors in the film to warrant some sympathy for the characters they play. We get a sense of who these guys are, how they differ, and where their vulnerabilities rest under a steeled veneer, as they recollect the horrors of an unparalleled war. Without the sympathy, without the likeability, there'd be no cause for concern when the peril eventually unfolds. Yet these dudes do a good enough job, starting on the page, that you're willing to suit up and go along for the mission.
Problem is, as enjoyably entertaining as it is in the moment, the movie isn't enough of a game changer on any substantial level to stay in your mind too long after it's over. It's a well executed, well performed piece, just not very memorable beyond the scroll of the credits. That doesn't mean it's a bad film, it just means it isn't likely to separate its self over the long haul or endure any test of time measurement we tend to codify great works by. And that's fine, most movies don't achieve that classic status at all. But at least this flick, limited as it might be overall, touched on some complex wartime grey areas, such as independent defense contractors coming in and muddying the jurisdictional authority. Or how, even while fighting an alien race (itself a metaphor for warring nations), the soldiers still faced oppositional insurgence from their pre-invasion enemies, in this case militant Afghani locals. To that latter point, there's also a pretty fascinating subplot involving Saleem, a Pakistani national that not only becomes an ally to the American soldiers, but a close personal friend as well. It's these collateral overt and covert strands and subplots that most piqued my fancy!
Look, ALIEN OUTPOST will by no means change the world, or even threaten to dent the annals of classic sci-fi cinema, but if you're down to lace up your boots and hit the desert with a likeable, believable band of misfits who must fend off a wave of hyper-destructive alien attacks...you can do a lot worse than this first-time feature. I know I'll definitely keep an eye on what director Jabbar Raisani does with his sophomore effort, as he not only made a well-paced, finely acted first movie, he also showed great VFX aplomb (minus the silly alien design) with a number of incendiary combat sequences. One standout detail were the ammunition Reds, high-impact phosphorous bullets that were the only way to kill an alien. I also dug, in true doc fashion, the simple use of one-on-one interviews to not only mellow the action, but also get a sense of who these individual characters were underneath the gritty soldier facade. Unfortunately, nothing much beyond that is bound to stick out or stay at the forefront of your memory.