I don’t know about you, but all these COVID-19 developments and enforced quarantines and social isolations are really starting to get to me. So I figured I’d relax by putting on a nice soothing alien invasion movie called… Alien Outbreak?
Aw beans, I did it again.
Alien Outbreak is the second feature film from writer/director Neil Rowe, the VFX specialist who brought us Robot World. The film follows Zoe (Katherine Drake) a Police Sergeant who recently transferred from Canada to a sleepy British village where nothing ever happens… until an alien invasion threatens to change her life forever. It starts with a rash of suicides and violent attacks, and it’s quickly made clear that alien robot drones are running around injecting people with stuff and generally causing mayhem. An Armed Response Vehicle is on the way but the phones are disrupted, the village is cut off and they’re running out of time...
The first thing that’s immediately apparent as the film starts is that it’s fallen into the trap of poor audio quality like so many other low budget films. It’s tough to make out what people say sometimes, and this is exacerbated when Zoe speaks on the police radio. There’s a scene when she speaks to fellow copper Patrick (Ritchie Crane) who’s holed up in the station and he’s whispering over the radio to her about the situation there and it’s just so mumbly it’s impossible to hear. I often found myself straining to make out what was going on.
The sound quality does pick up for long stretches of the film, but sadly that just draws attention the film’s biggest weakness: the acting. Most line deliveries are flat and lifeless, and it rarely feels like the characters are reacting naturally to the peril they’re in. I really wanted to like Drake as Zoe, she seemed like a fun proactive character, but there was no spark there, nothing that made her interesting to follow. It was the same with everyone, they were just sort of there. It was difficult to root for them when they’re struggling to emote and react naturally. When Zoe first sees a robot drone, she might as well have seen a cat knocking something off a table. Mind you, when she’s first confronted with the possibility of a hostile encounter she grabs a shotgun she’d taken as evidence from a double suicide and goes full commando – did no one tell her that’s not how we do things over here? In fact, is it even possible for a police officer to transfer from Canada to the UK? Is that a thing? My suspension of disbelief took a bit of a blow there.
The film looks good, though – it’s slick and shiny and Rowe clearly knows how to stage a creepy scene. There are a couple of moments where Zoe is in the dark, lit only by her flashlight, with a robot skittering about unseen. Very effective stuff! It’s let down a little when she spots the creature, fires at it and sort of jogs away, with the enemy strolling after her practically whistling in nonchalance. I exaggerate there, but that’s what it feels like because there’s no strong musical accompaniment to highlight the danger, underpin the urgency and get your blood-pressure up. It’s a vital part of building tension, and while Rowe gets the visuals of it right, the sound mustn’t be neglected either. The shaky cam put me off initially, but it’s used appropriately here as it does create an intimacy that works well for the story; it sells the small-town isolation feel and provides Dutch angles aplenty to unsettle us. The special effects are mostly very good too; sometimes the robots don’t quite feel like there’s weight to them, like they’re present in the room (which of course they’re not), but that’s par for the course with most low-budget films. Rowe decided not to keep his enemies in the shadows, which would have dramatically upped their threat status. But they look fine, and the spaceships look brilliant.
The story is mostly fine, moving along at a steady pace as things go from bad to worse. People get infected and turn on their friends and themselves, and the inevitable march of the robots goes on. Yes, I keep saying robots instead of aliens. The thing is, for the majority of the film, the threat comes from the robot drones and their lightning-quick syringe strikes. We don’t see an actual alien until well past midpoint. Well, that’s not entirely true – we see them standing ominously, surrounding the police station like it’s Assault on Precinct 13. When we do finally see one up close, it’s in the best scene in the film. I’ll not spoil it for you, but suffice to say it’s a dark scene, tough to watch, and of course it leaves you wondering who the true monsters are. It’s just a bit disappointing that in a film called Alien Outbreak we mostly get robots. Feels like a bit of a cheat.
Speaking of not spoiling things, I really want to complain about the ending but, you know, can’t really without ruining it. Suffice to say it disappointed me with a twist from nowhere that really should have been seeded and foreshadowed throughout. Then again, perhaps it was and I missed it because it was in one of the mumbly bits. I didn’t see it coming, but then I didn’t even have the chance to. A great twist should feel like a piece falling into place and the whole puzzle finally making sense.
In all, Alien Outbreak is a bit limp but it’s clearly made with passion, which is the important thing really. One thing it’s certainly not is lazy, and you have to admire what’s been done with the budget it had. Perhaps with better acting and a twist with coherent roots in the story, this could have been a great little gem. As it is, it just about hits ok.
2 ginger biscuits out of 5
Review by Sam Kurd
Director: Patrick Lussier
Writers: Patrick Lussier & Todd Farmer
Starring: Omar Epps, Jamie Kennedy, Ellen Adair, Kristina Reyes and Tom Atkins
A no-nonsense detective tries to track down a mass murderer named Trick, who is terrorizing a small town
Trick opens at a Halloween house party where kids play spin the bottle, only with a knife in place of a bottle. When the knife falls on Patrick ‘Trick’ Weaver, the quiet kid in the pumpkin mask (that and the casting of Tom Atkins are nice nods to Halloween III: Season of the Witch), things turn grisly quick as he lashes out, slashing his way through the group of teenagers. But Trick is quickly subdued, with Cheryl (Kristina Reyes) and Troy (Max Miller) surviving.
Detective Mike Denver (Omar Epps) and Sheriff Lisa Jayne (Ellen Adair) get the case and go to the hospital to interrogate Trick. But in a show of superhuman strength Trick breaks loose and cuts through several nurses. Det. Denver and the Sheriff catch up to Trick, shooting him several times and sending him plummeting out a four-story window. When they race down to find his body...it’s gone. So, in the first 15 minutes this killer has already gone full Michael Myers.
And really that’s my biggest criticism of the film, it’s hard to raise the stakes from there. The body is never recovered, but the case is closed. However, Det. Denver believes the killer’s still out there. Similar murders occur every Halloween after that, different masks, but the same M.O. Everyone writes them off as copycats, but Denver knows Trick is still out there. After a few years of murders (including some clever booby-trap kills and a healthy number of decapitations), Trick returns to the small town where it all started for one final bloodbath.
There’s lots of fun nods and winks for horror fans, Tom Atkins runs the local diner, screenwriter Todd Farmer has a cameo as a deputy, and the movement of the killer is very reminiscent of Ghostface (Lussier edited Scream 1, 2 & 3). But it all feels like repetitive serial killer cat-and-mouse scenarios where the killer constantly takes the good guys unawares, over and over. It does finally culminate in a clever plot twist (which I won’t divulge). Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late.
For the die-hard slasher fans, I’d say check it out.
2.5 out of 5
Review by Kyle Hintz
I don’t know about you, but all these terrifying COVID-19 developments in the news is really starting to get to me. So I figured I’d relax by putting on a nice soothing horror movie about… an apocalypse brought on by the spread of a deadly zombie virus.
By Day’s End is a found-footage zombie movie directed by Michael Souder (Hunger) and written by Souder and Justin Calen-Chenn (Folklore). The popular opinion is that the market for zombie films is a tad saturated, and the found-footage bubble burst yonks ago. So combining the two? A pretty bold move. But of course it’s always possible to fly in the face of the odds and make a great film. Sadly, this isn’t a great film, but at least it’s not a bad one.
This film is about a relationship in crisis. Our camerawoman is Carly (Lyndsey Lantz), a sort-of doctor who’s been evicted along with her girlfriend Rina (Andrea Nelson) and forced to live in her friend’s hotel for a while. Things are looking grim, as they argue and snipe and are cruising for a breakup. But soon the hotel is overrun with zombies and the couple are fighting to save more than just their relationship.
The zombie outbreak is the weakest part of the film’s plot. There’s nothing we haven’t seen before, nothing really fresh or new. The zombies retain something of their former lives and get a bit smarter if they’ve recently eaten, but that’s been done before and more interestingly. It’s stated that there’s a different infection vector than just biting, as the first victim of the film wasn’t bitten at all, but nothing comes of it. The freshest thing is a cute sequence where a zombie mugs for the camera then steals it to seemingly go make her own movie, with the camera passing to hotel-owner Wyatt (Joshua Keller-Katz) for a while after he kills her. It’s nice to see the camera passed around like this, it gives the film a greater sense of movement and action than if we’d stayed confined to the room with Carly.
That said, we don’t just see the events unfold through Carly’s camera, we’re also treated to lots of CCTV footage of the hotel premises (it’s one of those open-courtyard motel type places us Britishers only see in movies). These are usually silent, giving a lovely eerie sense that you’re spying on things you shouldn’t be allowed to see. It enhances the voyeur-y feel that found-footage films tend to have, and mixes well with the more intimate gaze we get from Carly’s camera.
Of course, it does add a further layer to the usual problems that this film suffers from. The most obvious is Put The Damn Camera Down: characters in found-footage films always keep filming when they should be dropping the camera and running away. The Borderlands got around it by making the cameras head-mounted, and the beginning of One Cut of the Dead justified it by having the megalomanic director insist that everything be filmed, but there’s nothing here to compel Carly to record everything. Picking up videography as a new hobby/job just doesn’t cut it. The second big problem is the editing: who spliced in the CCTV footage, and how did they get their hands on it? And the third problem is the worst of all: who’s filming the shots in the hotel room that aren’t captured by Carly’s camera? It’s not CCTV and it’s not Carly’s camera, so…? It feels like they couldn’t work out how to block the scenes from the camera’s perspective so they cheated and hoped we wouldn’t notice. We noticed.
The relationship drama was easily the most interesting and entertaining part of the film. Seeing this couple stumble towards a breakup that’s been a long time coming was really compelling, definitely helped by how good the leads were. Lantz gives a fantastic performance – in fact, towards the end I began to wonder if her shoulders were sore from carrying the whole film the way she did. Perhaps that’s a tad unfair to the other film-makers, but she was easily the best thing about the film. Her performance was effortlessly real, and it was largely down to her that the tragedy of the third act was so effective. Nelson was good as Rina, but really shone towards the end with a very physical performance. Katz was sadly pretty flat and monotone, which I think was an attempt at macho intensity (Wyatt is ex-army and a conspiracy nut who was prepared for this outbreak). It’s his first role, though, so there’s always room to grow.
In all, it’s best to think of this as a lesbian tragedy with zombies rather than as a horror film. It doesn’t scare or instil dread or even gross out, but it does leave you with a deep sadness that lingers long after the credits have rolled. If that’s what they were going for, then mission accomplished!
3 ginger nuts out of 5