A small Australian town experiences a small, yet devastating portion of a world invasion by a hostile alien race during a night of carnival festivities and a rugby football game. A small group of locals band together to form a resistance against the alien occupation that seeks to turn mankind’s world into their own, using captured humans as slave labor for their own agricultural harvesters. After each liberation of prisoners, the resistance fighters train others as rebels to strike back, and strike back hard, against their oppressors while they continuously search for their missing loved ones, but for some, at the cost of their own humanity and compassion when only killing becomes the most instantaneous gratification toward taking back their home planet. A select few of rebels try to find common ground in peace with a homeless alien race that desperately seeks an inhabitable world, but red and green blood must be shed on both sides before amity ever becomes a realistic ideal between two humanoid races.
“Occupation” is the 2018 alien invasion action-thriller and the sophomore feature film from Australian director Luke Sparke. Sparke, who also wrote the script, shares additional dialogue credits with Felix Williamson of “Nekrotronic.” What could be considered as “Red Dawn” meets “Independence Day,” “Occupation” has wealthy production value breadth that kisses the line of being something constructed from the flashy and gleam-laden Michael Bay with grand scale visual effects that blend fairly seamlessly with ground level practical makeup. Explosions, weapons fire, and spray patterns of alien blood put a significant dent into the storyline that follows the nearly-a-year course of the ragtag team of human resistance fighters, firmly solidifying “Occupation’s” action status and large pocket budget on a this foreign science fiction film.
Not one actor headlines “Occupation,” but, rather, follows the subjective motives from each of the motley crew of survivors. If had to choose, the pill addicted and rugged rugby footballer Matt Simmons, played by “Beast No More’s” Dan Ewing, is shown some favoritism as he becomes the naturally unspoken for leader of the resistance team that includes his girlfriend, Amelia, played by Stephany Jacobsen. “The Devil’s Tomb” actress doesn’t quite mesh well with Ewing; her forced performance is uncomfortably ungraceful during action and melodramatic scenes of her perspectives on the alien culture and Matt’s audacious bravery. Temuera Morrison is a familiar face amongst the mix; the “Speed 2” and regular “Star Wars” mythology actor across many platforms is the passionately driven father, Peter, who desperately searches for his son and wife from whom he was separated during the invasion and Morrison does what the accomplished actor has always done best, being the aggressor and the muscle behind his character, especially when Peter mercilessly caves in alien craniums with scrap piping. When Peter is bashing skulls, he’s being an overprotective daughter to Izzy Stevens, a young actress from Sydney, who provides the teenage angst and, in a rather bizarre move, goes down a road of fixation with the local, older looking bum, played by Zac Garred. The chemistry only sparks here and there until their tunnel of love sequence; by then, they’re full throttle, ripping off clothes like cotton is contagious. Rhiannon Fish, Charles Terrier, Felix Williamson, Jacqueline McKenzie (“Deep Blue Sea”), Trystan Go, and Sci-fi genre vet Bruce Spence (“The Road Warrior”) make up the remaining cast.
Much of “Occupation’s” hefty flaws come from simply being forced. From the acting to the storyline, the pace doesn’t convey authenticity and where the characters should be within the stages of a post-invasion Earth. Oppressive occupation desolate inhabitants and landscape, but the majority of the human race remain not weathered by the conflict and Sparke doesn’t necessarily express that well with still very much clean shaven, well-kept, and strength-retaining displaced survivors with fat bellies and no sign of disease or starvation. In 8 months, the resistance is able to completely organize against an advanced alien race despite being taken by complete surprise. Dynamics are a bit off as well as many motivations abruptly change; for example, Amelia’s brother, Marcus, has a crush fixation with Izzy Stevens’ character during invading period, but the interaction between them go un-nurtured and wither to where a sudden connection between her and the bum form at a rapid pace without so much of a flicker of jealousy Marcus, losing any hope for an internal, tangent subplot. Same can be said between Matt and Amelia; they’re hot and cold relationship teeters on psychotic behavior and bi-polar tendencies that result in questioning where exactly their position lies in this conflict that’s nudges them to wedge apart but pulls them together again like nonchalant magnets without really tackling head-on their own issues.
Lionsgate and Saban Films release “Occupation” on Blu-ray home video. The transfer is in 1080p hi-definition with a 2.39.1 widescreen presentation. Nothing really to note here about the image quality other than the cleanliness of the digital video that sheds many landscape and personal details in the day and the night sequences. The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track has copious qualities for an explosive-laden borderline A/B movie from Australia. Dialogue is prominent and the LFE is quiet sparse though explosion heavy; ships whizzing through the air maintain on a level playing field audio track shared with human’s scampering frantically for their very lives. Spanish subtitles and English SDH are also available. For a two-hour runtime flick, surprisingly, there are no bonus features with this release. Luke Sparke’s “Occupation” is masterfully formulaic as we’ve all experienced this movie before whether be “Red Dawn” or “Independence Day.” Nothing under the satisfactory visual effects is awesome enough to rattle or challenge the mind with the venture of a militia of Australian resistance fighters pitted against ghastly, rubber looking extraterrestrials and that’s the ultimate and fateful bullet in Sparke’s sci-fi action film.
Traveling across a remote highway, five carnival workers journey to their next small top gig on Halloween day in 1976. Stopped by scarecrow-like figures in the middle of the road, the carnies find themselves led into a hostile trap and are kidnapped, held hostage to be poorly prepped for the dilapidated warehouse “Murderworld.” The violent death labyrinth is set for a hellish game entitled “31”, launched yearly by the sadist Father Death with Sister Serpent and Sister Dragon, that pits the captive against a series of killers, specialized in their own brand of merciless murder. To survive inside “Murderworld,” you have to stay alive for 12 hours in the dark, dank warehouse.
After a self produced campaign, a hefty amount of soul crushing crowdfunding, and a slew of production and distribution ups and downs, “House of a 1000 Corpses” director and shock rocker Rob Zombie was finally able to release this year his latest horror installment “31” since 2012’s “The Lords of Salem.” Lionsgate acquires the home entertainment rights to deliver “31” with a R-rated version of the Zombie’s claimed return to roots horror. The survival slasher, when compared to the director’s other work, capitalizes as the most seriously disturbed work to date, but the premise is not particularly original. We’ve all seen the placing of disoriented victims in a life or death game scenario before; Schwarzenegger’s “The Running Man,” based off the Stephen King novel, strikes many similarities, closely relating the two films by sheer plot alone. With Zombie’s “31,” the differences stagger between the main characters being simple carnies looking for a place in the world and “Murderworld” not being a total dystopian future of skewed justice. Instead, the shock rocker pens in his own ‘motherfucking’ motivations of satanic rituals to filthy the pot of sadism and mayhem.
Overall, I thought “31’s” characters were inviting and interesting even if they’re a cookie-cutter roster engineered by the likes of Rob Zombie. The idea is good to have five ordinary folks enduring a 12 hours bout of being hunted by a pint sized nazi enthusiast, a pair of chainsaw wielding hillbilly whack jobs, a tall German in a pink tutu and his Harley Quinn modeled femme fatale, and, then, there’s Doom-Head, portrayed by the impeccable Richard Brake. My first experience with Brake came from another facet of the word ‘doom,’ 2005’s “Doom,” to be exact, the adaptation of the popular id Software survival horror video game, and even then did Brake have the outer shell of a complete sleaze ball, dipped in an indescribable amount of pure malevolence. Rob Zombie is able to tap into Brake’s true potential with Doom-Head, an egocentric nihilist professionally suited for murder while oozing with unapologetic shamelessness. Along with Brake lies co-stars very familiar from prior Zombie films and these individuals are Jeff Daniel Phillips, deeply blue-eyed Meg Foster, and Judy Geeson from “The Lords of Salem,” the legendary Malcolm McDowell and Lew Temple from the “Halloween” remake, and, of course, Sheri Moon Zombie, the dedicated wife who stars in everything the man does from movies to music videos. Rounding out the film has Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Kevin Jackson, Jane Carr, Pachno Moler, David Ury, Torsten Voges, and “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’s” Elizabeth Daily on the docket.
The problem with the characters are not that their ‘cookie-cutter’ characters, as I aforementioned, but rather their just well, well under written. Developmentally, almost every character becomes wasted space, floating stagnantly across the 103 minute runtime. For the hunters aside from Doom-Head, they’re backgrounds are mysterious which fits the rules of “31.” Doom-Head is a different story because he’s the golden child of “Murderworld,” spoken very highly by Father Murder and graced with so much monologuing that it’s absurdly comical and, unfortunately, predictable. As far as the carnies are concerned, most of the group never blooms into relevancy and I couldn’t help but to root for most of their savage deaths. Sheri Moon Zombie’s Charly character was the slice of life, the slither hope, that showed promise. Yeah, Charly looks and sounds much like Baby Firefly, but Charly is a fantasy heroine with a modest range of emotions and when even faced with defeat, she’s stands strong.
Though I wanted “31” to exceed all my expectations with the promise of untapped brutality, here we stand with a cut version Rob Zombie’s crowdfunded film. I’m interested in what exactly hit the cutting room floor because, just taking in “31” at first viewing, every single scene could be remedied by reimplementing, if any, omitted scenes. From my understanding, Rob Zombie submitted the survival horror numerous times to the MPAA in order to purposely retrieve a R-Rating and the ending result suggests a heavily cut film: off camera moments of attack, choppy warehouse segments, unintended shortened character developments, etc. Something more must be behind the scenes that holds back a fan well-deserved and fan well-funded unrated version and I’m not totally knocking this rated Lionsgate release, but a perception has been cemented on the fact that fans were promised an unadulterated Rob Zombie spook show and ended up not getting what they paid for ultimately.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment will be releasing the Saban Films’ “31” on Blu-ray on December 20th in 1080p High Definition with a 16×9 widescreen 2.46:1 presentation and an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. A DVD version is also available. The presentation is in the detail of the image quality with only some minor dialogue loss, slightly muddled amongst the levels, in the DTS track. Certainly not a disparaging opinion, but once in close quarters, such as the carnies’ van, the ambiance hum of the engine, the tires on the road, and the jingle-jangle of objects in the van drown out parts of dialogue from Meg Froster and Jeff Daniel Phillips. An impressive 2-hour comprehensive documentary on the making of the film entitled “In Hell Everybody Loves Popcorn” and an audio commentary with writer-director Rob Zombie completes the bonus material. “31” feels like a Rob Zombie film; the rocker’s trash talking grit and loads of rockabilly swag leaves his unique brand seared into the horror scene, but Zombie’s “Murderworld” story is a promise-filled return to roots sensation for the director. Honestly, Zombie never strayed from his grungy grindhouse of inhuman torture and death origins, but only for a fleeting moment, and so “31” stays the abrasive, distasteful course that’ll speak, like in cult comprehensible tongues, to only his fan base.
Clay Riddell just landed in Boston after scoring a huge deal in New York involving concepts for his graphic novel. With all the cellphone charging stations occupied, Clay calls his estranged wife from a pay phone to speak with his son, but when the landline severs communications, that’s when it started. People on their cellphones turn into Phoners, murderous maniacs who tear through anyone in a destructive path mindless insanity. Clay, in the midst of panic, bumps into subway train conductor Tom McCourt and fight their way out of the city, barely escaping with their lives. Fleeing a burning Boston overran by Phoners, Clay is determined to track down his family in New Hampshire with the help of Tom and two teens, Alice and Jordan, but the Phoners are not just absentminded anymore as individuals start to flock together exhibiting the beginning signs of their telepathic network lending to something far more sinister than just temporary mayhem.
“Cell” is the feature film adaptation to Stephen King’s novel of the same title and reunites John Cusack with Samuel L. Jackson once again since their last costarring venture of King’s book-to-silver screen production of “1408.” King shares screenplay credits with Adam Alleca, who co-penned “The Last House on the Left” remake in 2009, and with “Paranormal Activity 2” director Tod Williams at the helm. From the first inkling of a “Cell” movie, back with Eli Roth was attached, the excitement couldn’t be contained as I read the Stephen King novel and was captivated by the unique story of mixed and varied human emotions and the uncontrollable yearnings to be a part of the collective through being electronically connected that ultimately becomes mankind’s undoing.
However, “Cell” was heading in the direction of certain doom from the moment Roth unattached himself from the project, sending “Cell” into the annoyance of limbo until a production company conglomerate formed to pull “Cell” from it’s stagnant state and attached Williams to direct. Yet once again, King’s beloved story goes into the throes of uncertainty with distribution after filming wraps in 2013. 2016 comes and Saban Films, along with Lionsgate , distributes “Cell” theatrically and within the home entertainment market respectively.
After all the monumental problems, I personally wanted to “Cell” to be one of the most entertaining and frightening horror films of the modern age, but as fate would have it, the Williams’ film disappoints. An film adaptation of a King novel needs more minutes to cover the story’s girth and “Cell” lacked pages of warranted minutes to be a full tell all for Clay, Tom, and the Raggedy Man. Portions of the novel were translated to the screen, but for the majority of the film, a rushed version of the story debuts to silver screen audiences that loses the book’s essence and dilutes character development, such as with Raggedy Man who has a sizable role in the book, but the character in Williams’ movie barely scratches the surface with being just a figurehead for the Phoners and not the collective’s soap box looming leader. The film started out great with intense chaos at Boston airport, pictorializing to life the Phoners from the King’s book with pinpoint precision, but from there on, the story’s time span goes vague whereas the book stretches out the length of time. Only a matter of two or three days does it seem the survivors jump from Boston, to the school, to the bar, to the story’s final location of Kashwak, but in reality terms and in the amount of devastation and character portrayal, weeks have passed.
The ending has been rewritten from a surprisingly mixed reaction to the book’s and yet, the unravelling of the finale does more than convolute matters when Clay finds his son. There lies almost a dual ending where one’s interpretation can be the film’s own storybook ending. Stephen King’s “The Mist” had an ending that, when compared to Frank Darabont’s totally new ending for the film, was totally inferior to Darabont’s and I feel like that’s the stage that was trying to bet revisited here with “Cell” and it just missed the mark completely. Not all changes are for the worst. Character Tom McCourt, whose white in book, went to Samuel L. Jackson who absolutely fits the role without question, nailing PTSD stricken McCourt with little emotion but with untapped hurt. If I ever had to choose an middle aged white actor for the role of Clay, John Cusack would be my first and only choice even before casting began for the film. I do feel like having a white Raggedy Man was purposefully steered away from social sensitivities with an antagonistic young black male in a hoodie. The cast rounds out with Isabelle Fuhrman, Owen Teague, and Stacy Keach (“Slave of the Cannibal God”).
The digital visual effects were so poorly constructed and composited that I’m not surprised “Cell” didn’t have a longer theatrical run. The book had a number of jaw-dropping visuals the imagination could run with and now with seeing the depictions of those visuals on screen, they seemed seriously slapped together in such haste to where the devastating sensationalism turns inane and bland. King’s apocalyptic story warrants Hollywood scale effects, but received a few levels below that bar, failing to deliver major catastrophe on a world ending scale to the likes of “War World Z” or to cleverly style the film through a smaller medium such as George Romero accomplished with this first three “Living Dead” films.
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release is presented in widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio and the 1080p Hi-Def resolution becomes a disadvantage that clearly outlines the quality of the effects. The English 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is par for the course, but slightly in-and-out with dialogue that’s difficult to balance. The 98 minute feature’s bonus features includes an director’s commentary and “To Cell and Back: The Making of the Film” which is redundant if you’ve read the novel. Bottom line is if you’re fan of Stephen King’s novel, you’ll be sorely disappointed with Tod Williams’ “Cell” that’s nothing more than a long awaited entertaining rated-R apocalyptic horror with obsolete effects and with star-studded names attached to this Stephen King story adaptation.