Coming across like “Quentin Tarantino Meets Aliens in a Supermarket,” this nifty little movie is enough to restore your faith in the vitality of low-budget independent cinema. It’s not perfect, but it marshalls its minimal resources to maximum effect, and the budgetary limitations (one major location, small cast, and the de rigeuer hand-held video photography) become part of the charm.
The story begins with an ordinary day at the supermarket – or rather night. Just as things are winding down toward closing, the routine is interrupted by a well-armed, efficient team of…well, just what are they: thieves, militants, terrorists? The hostage situation, including a stand-off with the police outside, plays out with the intensity of a good Tarantino film (or, more accurately, like Mario Bava’s RABID DOGS, the film that Tarantino probably wishes he could make, but can’t). But with a title like ALIEN RAIDERS, you just know something more has to be going on, and sure enough the criminals turn out to be a team led by a couple of former government scientists who are trying to thwart an alien invasion. The alien life form, it seems, can hide within a human host, and the test to determine who is infected involves severing a finger. One by one, potential hosts are eliminated but not fast enough to prevent a monster from emerging and making counter-attack, leading to an action-packed finale.
At the risk of boring readers with my third Tarantino reference in as many paragraphs, I will note the obvious similarity between ALIEN RAIDERS and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: both begin as straight-ahead action thrillers before morphing into monster movies midway through. The difference is that ALIEN RAIDERS handles the switch much better, and you don’t have to watch Tarantino try to act. (Oh damn, that makes four references! No more, I promise.) Imagine the fun you’ll have popping this one in the videoplayer, fastfowarding past the title, and springing it on your unexpecting friends. (“Another heist movie? How original! ZZZZ. Oh wait – what’s that? Monsters? Aliens? What the…? Woa, way cool!)
The film does tend to celebrate the extra-legal methods used by the team, insisting that they are justified by the high-stakes involved. In the context of a film about aliens, I guess we should cut the filmmakers some slack, but personally I’ve had enough of the “ends justify the means” argument in post-9/11 entertainment like 24.
On a basic plot level, I don’t really buy that these scientists moonlight as a crack paramilitary team, effortlessly shifting from telescopes to guns, but if you play close attention to the group dynamics, you can sorta suss out that most of the team are actually mercenaries, led by a couple of astro-physicists. (How these two scientists managed to assemble such a team – and maintain the respect and authority necessary to lead hardened mercenaries – remains unanswered.)
This stretch of credibility, along with a last-minute twist ending, are the only obvious instances where the film resorts to the kind of movie-movie logic that asks viewers to sit back and just enjoy the show for the sheer fun of it. Otherwise, the story is efficiently told without a lot of self-reflexive nodding and winking; performances are strong, and the makeup effects do the job of selling the alien menace. The result is a modern film in the mold of an old-fashioned B-movie, one that could have become a sleeper hit in an earlier era of drive-ins and midnight screenings. Hopefully, viewers will discover it on home video.
ALIEN RAIDERS began life as an intended directorial project for Daniel Myrick (co-director of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT).
The film won in the Best Thriller Feature Film category at the 2008 Shriekfest film festival.
ALIEN RAIDERS (2008). Directed by Ben Rock. Written by Julia Fair and David Simkins. Cast: Carlos Bernard, Mathrew St. Patrick, Rockmond Dunbar, Courtney Ford, Jeffrey Licon, Samantha Streets, Derek Basco, Bonita Fridericy, Joel McCrary, Joseph Steve Yang, Tom Kiesche.