Alien Uprising feat

Alien Uprising (film, 2012)

The British film industry outputs a small number of genre films each year with science fiction proving no exception. In 2011 Attack the Block impressed audiences with its darkly comedic tale of a feral pack of aliens assaulting a grim London estate, and last year’s The¬†World’s End bookended Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto’s trilogy, proving popular despite inviting unfavourable comparison with Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007).

Sandwiched between the two is Alien Uprising, originally titled U.F.O, the third film from director Dominic Burns. Unfortunately for Burns he lacks the cultural cache of Attack the Block’s Joe Cornish (one half of the pop-culture comedy duo Adam & Joe) or Edgar Wright. Burns’ previous efforts How to Stop Being a Loser and Airborne failed to win over critics and audiences to any significant degree and Alien Uprising appears to have similarly struggled, clearly produced with a limited budget. It has managed to pull in a little star power but sadly Jean Claude Van Damme – who sleepwalks through a few lines late in the film – adds little to proceedings beyond his participation in the film’s weakest fight scene and, well, his¬†daughter’s supporting role.

The story opens with a group of friends enjoying an evening out in a Derby nightclub, quickly establishing its core cast. Michael (Sean Brosnan), an angry SAS Lieutenant home from leave and not shy of acts of violence; Robin (Simon Philips), a nice-guy conciliatory character who’s struggling toward a mature life, encouraged by his girlfriend Dana (Maya Grant) to whom he proposes whilst sat atop a parked car; and Vincent (Jazz Lintott), an awkward figure who struggles to both hold his drink and enchant any of the women he meets. Intercut with this are a variety of scenes that, as yet, don’t make much sense. It’s almost, but not quite, as nauseating as Vincent’s lack of charm.

Although any group of young adults hovering nervously around the thirty year mark run the risk of proving an unlikeable bunch on a heavy night out, Burns chose to began his film in such a setting and so it is that we are given these first impressions. Michael charms the attractive Carrie (Bianca Bree, the aforementioned daughter of Van Damme) despite a speech that veers between sweet and laddish chauvinism; the two end up fucking on the washing machine in the house shared by Robin and Vincent. Meanwhile Robin and Maya retire to Robin’s room to work out their differences with violent drunken sex. Intercut with this scene are shots of Vincent vomiting into the toilet. It’s probably intended to be comic, but looking back on the film as a whole it instead serves to reinforce our impressions of Vincent as pathetic; a self-made failure.

Between the club and this afterparty it’s a celebration of all that’s charmless and crass about British night-life and binge drinking. Far be it from me to condemn this; it’s a hardly unusual scene for any British city and it quickly establishes the film’s characters as a largely unlikeable band of British archetypes – another tic of the British film industry.

Soon after our focus is fortunately shifted to something less banal: first the power goes, then the phones, and then alien spacecraft blot out the sky.

Alien Uprising’s strengths lie in how it extends the mystery of its alien invaders out over a large portion of the film’s length: for a long time they are simply there, hanging over the world’s cities. Or so it is assumed: before their saucers arrive the country’s electrical and communications networks are cut. It is almost, a minor character observes in a heavy-handed expository scene, as if they are waiting to see how humanity will react.

The film spends a majority of its time portraying the rapid collapse of civilized British society once this essential infrastructure, alongside the efficacy of the emergency services, is cut. Although hardly unique I enjoyed the film’s effective Ballardian take on just how little force and time it takes to push thuggery, violence, selfishness and bigotry to the fore: they lurk just below the surface. If nothing else, the film’s opening scenes in the nightclub should have made clear just how close these base impulses are.

There is an unfortunate whiff of social Darwinism about some of the film’s proceedings wherein only the strong survive, and the angry, violent and armed Michael certainly does keep his band together as they scavenge for food and avoid being robbed in broad daylight. But alongside him every step of the way is Carrie whose laconic delivery initially appears an American affectation, but over time suggests a deeper secret. There’s a clearly difficult balance to find here and Bree doesn’t always pull it off, resulting in her performance often appearing sub-standard. Still, she often provides an interesting counterpoint to Michael’s SAS training-inspired responses.

Alas the film collapses when it introduces simply too many ideas, most of them not as interesting as its earlier focus on the rapid collapse of civilization. Among these we have a brief slasher-esque interlude where a lone Maya is stalked through the house, a strangely out of place fragment of levity when two jovial British soldiers join the core cast, and a location shift from Derby’s suburbs to Jean Claude Van Damme’s rural survivalist retreat. It’s here that the film entirely loses its way, all but jettisoning the theme about the darkness that lurks beneath the surface of human society, replacing it with weak action scenes, some bunkum about alien artefacts recovered from Area 51, and a dramatic conclusion that lacks enough foreshadowing to make any real sense whatsoever.

It’s a shame that Alien Uprising is ultimately a poor film that I cannot recommend because there are some interesting ideas here. Unfortunately these ideas are buried beneath unnecessary plot complication, spotty action sequences and variable performances from the cast.

 

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