07th Feb2016

‘Alienate’ DVD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Blake Webb, Tatum Langton, Jaclyn Hales, Nathan Day, Keith Hottinger, Marlys Miller-Fladeland, Cuyle Carvin, Richard Sharrah, Jack Diamond, Sue Rowe, Tye Nelson, Brandyn Cross, Caitlin E.J. Meyer, Kenneth Applegate, Courtnea Hyland | Written by Rick Hansberry, Lex Hogan | Directed by Michael Shumway

alienate-cast

Obviously inspired by the likes of Gareth Edwards’ Monsters – only with Independence Day style aliens rather than giant monsters, Alienate sees David, inn the midst of a crumbling marriage, leave home for an important business trip. However when aeroplanes start mysteriously falling out of the sky and cell towers fail, he finds himself trapped away from his wife and family. With the Earth falling to an alien invasion, David fights to return to whatever is left of his home and marriage…

The feature-length debut of Michael Shumway, Alienate is a low-budget, human-focused look at what would happen if the Earth was invaded by alien entities, showing things unfolding through the eyes of the everyday population rather than – as with most alien invasion movies – the eyes of the military or scientists concerned with stopping the aliens. Instead we’re shown how such an event would effect regular folk, from them fending for themselves without vital services, to turning on each other in order to survive – even when their lives are far removed from the alien menace.

Told in flashback, Alienate doesn’t lay its cards out on the table straight away, instead it asks the audience to figure out what’s happening along with our protagonist David. Yes, we know there’s an alien invasion and we know something’s wrong with the water. But we don’t know the ultimate end game of the aliens. We don’t know exactly what is happening to those that have drunk the water, beynd their odd “brainwashed” or zombie-like behaviour. There are huge chunks of the story left untold, which actually works to keep us watching – the audiences inquisitiveness is used as a hook on which to hang Alienate‘s story.

The fact that Alienate focuses on the human story doesn’t mean that it’s not without some standout action set-pieces. Whilst the aliens are kept mainly off-screen, the mayhem they cause is not.What you do see of the aliens early-on are strange leather-clad, insectoid-sounding “beings” that are armed with laser guns that look like they’ve been snatched out of the hands of stormtoopers. And let’s just say the aliens definitely have a shoot-to-kill policy! The big set piece is saved for the closing moments of the film, as David reaches home to find the alien attack in full force – complete with alien spaceships and an all-out battle between the military and the aliens. Yet in the midst of the action Shumway still manages to make it all about the people in his story.

Looking past the partiular foibles of low-budget film-making, one thing that strikes you about Alienate is Shumway’s stunning use of visuals. The film is filled with some haunting imagery… streets strewn with dead bodies, mass graves etc., which give the film a very lonesome feeling; which is the antithesis of big-budget alien invasion movies. Whereas the likes of Independence Day promote camradery, the resilience of the humanity, Alienate shows how such an event would actually destroy the human spirit; and how – in most people – the human psyche could not cope with the trauma.

Shumway also  cleverly utilises the tropes of the horror genre to tell his story – the aliens here are the boogeyman, skulking in the shadows before attacking their victims. Yes it allows the filmmakers to keep the aliens offscreen, and thusly keep the budget low, but it is also effective in making them seem much more of a threat – because if you can see them you can fight them. Here that is not the case.

As I said in the opening, Alienate’s story is very similar to that of Monsters. If you ever read my review of Edwards’ movie you’ll know I hated it. Why? Well watch Shumway’s film to see why. This is the story I wanted from Monsters – a story full of hope, yet mired in despair. A true story of humanity versus aliens not some romantic schmaltz wrapped up in a sci-fi skin. And a film whose story is more believable than any Roland Emmerich movie!

***½  3.5/5

Alienate is released on DVD on February 22nd, courtesy of Altitude.

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