Sunday 30 December 2018

Occupation (Australia 2018: Dir Luke Sparke)

A rather bizarre and very busy - but not unenjoyable - Australian mashup of Independence Day and 1980s TV show V via Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of War of the Worlds, Occupation often feels like a mini series squashed into a single 2-hour episode.

In a classic disaster movie setup - following a voice over which suggests that an alien invasion might be useful to focus the planet away from its current pre-occupations - a random group of townsfolk in a small Australian town are introduced, their squabbles and antipathies rather paling into insignificance when an alien force first launches weapons, then a humongous hive ship, onto the community with devastating results. The remaining survivors are thrown together post attack, and Occupation details their lives and struggles, and the impact on family and community as a result of the invasion.

There’s no doubting the quality of director Sparke’s directorial vision; Occupation looks sumptuous and its effects work is extremely effective given the obvious budgetary limitations. But it’s not without issues - principally the idea of conveying the concept of a global alien assault feeling rather a stretch given the limited scope of the film’s geographical realm.

The first section of the film feels like Red Dawn territory, where the put-upon townsfolk decide to take arms against their sea of troubles and best the visiting aliens, tooling themselves up and basically being mad as hell and not taking it any more. The characters are much you’d expect from this sort of thing - pregnant woman, curmudgeonly guy, lantern jawed football player with undisclosed health problems – and it’s well signposted that their issues will feature as plot points later in the film.

One of the impressive effects sequences in Occupation
After a span of several months we learn that a kind of detente has been reached between the occupying forces and the Islanders, watched over by a huge alien ship, reminiscent of District 9. Much of the drama of the middle section is achieved by the cast struggling to live under alien rule and contain the more renegade factions who wish to take direct action. This becomes slightly unbelievable in the later stages of the film. Basically the aliens have visited earth because they have used up their resources and now want ours, and the weight of the firepower on display baffles as to why they didn’t just clear the planet of humans in the first place. The extended lead up to the final battle does at least allow some nuances of plot, particularly in one of the cast witnessing the frailty of the alien invaders and their need to support each other – knowledge which isn’t used against the occupiers in the last slug out.

Content wise the whole thing feels very PG-13 in tone. Swearing is a no-no – one character actually says “crap or get off the pot!” at one point – and the violence, although present, is rather muted, which reduces the ability for the audience to hiss the bad guys and their brutality. But this is a movie which is most impressive when the effects let rip and the gung ho action gets going. It's also one that relishes its patriotic touches, although it’s quite odd to see an Australian flag hoisted where one is used to the ‘Stars and Stripes’.

Occupation is released on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download from 21st January 2019 by Altitude Film Entertainment.

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