Monday, 23 January 2017

Invasion Earth

Cast: Phoebe Delikoura, Darren James King, Charlotte Gould, Nigel Thijs, and Dave Shaw

Director: James Twyman

107 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
101 Films DVD Region 2

Rating: 5/10
Review by Andrew Darlington

There was a low-budget 1966 British sci-fi film called Invasion, in which Lystrian aliens isolate and terrorise a remote hospital, near Blackburn. There’s a curious bonus element in that the aliens are played by oriental actors, including Yoke Tani and the very lovely Tsai Chin, a future Bond-girl who also recorded a mildly disreputable novelty song titled School In Cheltenham. All of which has very little to do with the low-budget 2016 British indie sci-fi film Invasion Earth, in which a disreputable bunch of reprobates are isolated in a remote rehab unit where they’re terrorised by aliens. Except that both sets of ETs also wear the kind of latex stretch-cat-suit that Britney Spears wears in the Oops I Did It Again video.

Further evidence, if it’s required, of the robust health of home-grown film-making, this debut project by writer-director James Twyman is resourceful and inventive within its obvious budgetary limitations. And it’s very much a game of two halves. The story of eight dysfunctional young offenders sent to an island ‘Rough-It-Out’ rehab clinic, with actual location sequences done on Clagh Vane near Ballalough in the Isle of Man, close by where Norman Wisdom once lived. They tried to make them go to rehab but they said ‘no, no, no’… until the alternative was more punitive sentencing, so – grudgingly, they agree to a spell in this ‘fixer-upper’ place. “Welcome to the Dark Ages,” they quip, as there’s not even a TV! Dr Carson (David Shaw) – who sets the stylus down carefully on his vinyl LP play-in grooves, is the self-help guru in charge, a therapist with e-book downloads, and a Jeremy Kyle-style TV-presenter called Johnny Pierceson (Jon-Paul Gates) intent on exposing him as a ‘cowboy’.

In the tough-love ‘cheesy bullshit’ Circle Room dialogues, we get to know each individual back-story and break through their low self-esteem problems. And there are strong performances from Darren James King as short-fuse racist Derek, in Jackson Pollock splash-shirt and swastika neck tattoo, his right-wing anger-management issues fuelled by his father’s death by IED (improvised explosive device) in Iraq. Cameron Bell plays nervous obsessive-compulsive Simon, an anorexic and would-be transsexual who never wanted to play with his Action Man figure, and prefers to be called ‘Cheryl’. Jonathan Jules is likeably amiable as Tyrone – the original butt of Derek’s offensive animosity, who is only here because he was framed by his dealer brother. Phoebe Delikoura as junkie YouTube former-celeb Vicky, burned-out by major-label manipulation, “whatever happened to just honest music?” With ex-SAS Thomas (Nigel Thijs) as strong-arm enforcer with a convenient military experience story for Derek and a dead-addict sister story for Vicky. Despite some stilted scripting, this all has a certain authentic truth, so far so good.

Carson cracks his ward’s defensive shells in one-to-one therapy, reducing Derek to a tearful emotional mess – hey, he’s just a crazy mixed-up kid. Gary (Cavan Holsgrove) is a failed football protégé with a severed cartilage who simply needs weed to help him forget. “Nobody said this was going to be easy,” clichés Simon/ Cheryl, while suicidal substance-abuser Kelly (Sammy Johnston) with survivor-guilt following an air disaster, manages to gauchely utter “that horizon actually makes me hope that there’s a better life out there for me.” Well – just as we’re getting to know and grudgingly like the characters, it’s about to get a lot worse for Simon/ Cheryl, and no, there’s no future for Kelly.

Because the working title – ‘Into The Light’, refers to the film’s second strand, promisingly signalled by the Arthur C. Clarke quote “two possibilities exist, either we are alone in the universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” Well, we are not alone, as footage of the approaching alien fleet, hacked from the Hubble, tends to indicate. And people start getting purpled to death – purple light being the effect-of-choice used by the aliens, well, Prince isn’t using it any longer! A vindictively oleaginous Pierceson gets zapped, as does the rescue copter, and then Carson’s car.

Brightly sex-addicted Ada (Charlotte Gould) promises to show you her tits if you can identify a Casablanca (1942) movie-quote. She bonds with ‘Cheryl’ in a make-up session, and then seduces Thomas while he’s supposedly watching Vicky while she’s locked-up enduring painful cold turkey. Her agony is immaculately illustrated by a haunting Set Me On Fire, written and performed by auburn-haired chanteuse Isabella Crowther. And as though withdrawal ain’t skin-rippingly bad enough, Vicky gets assaulted by a ‘creepy psycho’ alien with spidery claws and dubious dress-sense too, until her eyes glow eerily and she goes on a slasher knife-rampage. As the black kid, Tyrone self-predictably gets it first. 

Until Ada, as the last one standing, leaves a voice-message – ‘this is a record’, and buries it in the sand. The giant UFO on the DVD-cover hovers over her only in the movies final few moments. What’s more problematic is why the alien fleet has crossed the vast interstellar wastes of the galaxy in order to terrorise a disreputable bunch of reprobates in a remote rehab unit? Like the Lystrians did in the 1966 British sci-fi film Invasion. Unless this episode is supposedly representative of what’s happening in other locations across the globe, and this is – as the strap-line says, ‘Mankind’s Final Stand’? Yet this sporadically-enjoyable movie is further evidence, if it’s required, of the robust health of home-grown film-making. Expect more from James Twyman’s next project.

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