All the Good Names Were Already Taken: Alien Raiders
Mar 1, 2009
There's a part of me that wants to start off this review of Alien Raiders with a rant, but I'm going to fight the urge. The rant in question is one you've heard from me time and time again, and it's not about Alien Raiders—but more about how films like Alien Raiders get the shaft from studios like Warner Bros. who relegate them to the "straight-to-DVD" bin while absolute garbage like the unwatchable One Missed Call remake gets a wide theatrical release. I guess if there's any consolation here, it's that Alien Raiders isn't the only film the dipshits at Warners have screwed—it sits right alongside Trick ‘r Treat and Amusement as movies that either got released direct-to-DVD (despite deserving better) or in Trick ‘r Treat's case, never got any kind of release at all (still no DVD date on that movie…)
Let's not dwell on that though—because this should really be about just how good Alien Raiders is instead of a diatribe about how Hollywood continues to once again ruin horror.
Once you get past the awful title (really? Alien Raiders? I expected it to be directed by Umberto Lenzi or Ruggero Deodato—under an anglicized pseudonym, of course—when I first read about it) and the fact that it sounds like something you'd find on the Sci-Fi Channel late on a Saturday night, the movie becomes a real treat for genre fans.
Directed by Ben Rock (who worked on the ancillary Blair Witch tie-ins Shadow of the Blair Witch and The Burkittsville 7) and co-produced by one of Blair Witch's directors (Daniel Myrick) Alien Raiders almost feels like a tenth anniversary celebration of that monumentally successful indie flick in the way it makes so much out of so little. If that alone isn't enough to get you interested, then maybe telling you that the narrative of Alien Raiders plays like an elaborately crafted homage to films like Carpenter's The Thing, Jack Sholder's The Hidden, and countless movies by guys like George Romero will. This is one surprisingly horror literate low budget film…
Basically, Alien Raiders is a siege film. A group of scientists take over an Arizona supermarket, taking everyone inside hostage. They're not there to rob the joint, though, they're instead hunting down an evil alien life-form that can inhabit other people. The "king" alien has inhabited someone inside this little grocery store, and if the scientists can find out who's harboring this extra-terrestrial, they can stop the threat once and for all. Of course, since this is a movie it's safe to assume that this won't go smoothly.
Narrative complications abound from the very start—there's a cop in the store, who kills the team's "spotter" (a guy who can see if the alien is in an individual) and alerts the authorities to what's happening. The cop who then runs the hostage situation from the outside has a vested stake in the outcome—his stepdaughter is inside. If all that weren't bad enough, there's still the matter of the alien-possessed individual running around.
What's a really nice departure here is that Alien Raiders doesn't just throw complications into the mix to create drama. The script is surprisingly smart. The idea of aliens in a supermarket is a stretch for some, but if you can get past that, the rest of the film will never insult your intelligence by having characters do something stupid for no good reason. Even cooler is that the film takes the occasional break from the action in order to spend a few quiet moments getting to know the characters—and because of this, the film's characters become much more interesting than what you'd expect to find in this kind of movie.
And while part of that is attributable to the writing of the film, kudos must also be given to the cast. Alien Raiders is interesting in that it eschews the traditional approach of securing a group of C grade film actors in favor of character actors from popular television shows instead. It's a great decision. 24's Carlos Bernard plays the leader of the scientists and he matches up against Six Feet Under's Mathew St. Patrick, who's leading the cops. Prison Break's Rockmon Dunbar is also featured as Kane, the tough-talking muscle of the group who keeps the hostages in line. Hopefully more low budget films will start to take this approach to casting. These actors all turn in solid performances and I doubt any of them ate up more of the production budget than the usual lesser film stars that generally wind up in these roles.
Still, where Alien Raiders really shines is in the direction. Not having a gigantic Hollywood budget can kill creature movies in the hands of an inexperienced director, but Rock makes the most of the funds he has instead. The filmmaker pulls off a Jaws-styled presentation, keeping the alien monsters in the shadows as often as possible. This makes them creepy because we never get a good look at them, and also makes the final act (when they're finally revealed) pretty exciting too. The use of light, the scene compositions, and the film's pacing and aesthetic style would all seem to indicate that Alien Raiders was made by someone who'd been making films for years. That it's a newcomer like Rock only makes it that much more impressive. There's no doubt in my mind that we're going to be hearing more from this director.
If it's not brutally apparent, allow me to reiterate—I liked Alien Raiders a lot. There are some minor issues here and there (the biggest being that the ending is telegraphed pretty early on), but they're so inconsequential that harping on them feels more like nitpicking solely for the purpose of finding something negative to say. The positives far outweigh any of the shortcomings (and that's not even talking about an alien test scene that was clearly inspired by John Carpenter's The Thing…) and it's an absolute travesty that this film didn't get time in a real theater or much of a marketing push from Warner Bros. Here's to hoping we see an Alien Raiders 2—and sooner rather than later.
ALIEN RAIDERS This is a really good independent flick that has a cool story line mixed with some good acting. This may not be an Academy award winning film but it is a cool flick full of blood and some great visuals. This is one of the better sci fi films I have seen in a while, and know I don't mean the Sci Fi Channel. After buying this one I kinda held off for a while always skipping over it for other titles, until my brother spotted this. … more
I'm a 36-year-old film critic who specializes in Horror and Cult Cinema as well as Asian films. I spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture quiz show, Beat the Geeks. I'm also … more
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