Fantastic Fest 2008 - Alien Raiders


Some books require you to "read between the lines," and certain indie flicks require you to look between the tricks. For an example of this silly theory we look to a new sci-fi horror flick called Alien Raiders. Here we have a low-budget genre flick that was shot in 15 days -- and it often shows -- but has more cleverness and creativity than some of the (much) pricier Hollywood movies. I've always said the screenplay is the true foundation of genre films, and Alien Raiders proves me right once again. Don't have the money to "show off" your monster in every third scene? Then you'll have to make do with lighting tricks, sound design skills, and editorital efficiency. Can't afford big stars? Then hire a few TV actors who actually have some talent. And if you don't have the budget for tons of maniacal action scenes, then your best bet is to concoct a clever little story.

Ben Rock's Alien Raiders covers all those requirements, and it goes one better: It's easily the most entertaining title yet to come from Warner Bros.' "Raw Feed" genre division -- although calling this scrappy flick better than Rest Stop or Otis is damning it with feint praise. The basic premise (some sort of aliens have invaded a supermarket in the middle of nowhere) is more than enough to fill a Saturday afternoon matinee slot, but the unexpectedly clever screenplay by David Simkins and Julia Fair buoys the flick across a small handful of slow spots. Best of all, when Alien Raiders isn't dealing with guns, aliens or general mayhem, it offers dialogue, characters, and plot threads that are actually (get this) interesting!

In other words, what starts out as a tense triangle between civilians, criminals, and aliens is quickly subverted so that the bad guys soon become the good guys, and the victims are actually ... well, let's not spoil all the fun. Suffice to say that Alien Raiders has a few modest surprises up its sleeve, and that's more than most low-budget genre concoctions even attempt. The ensemble cast is packed with relative unknowns, but there's not a bad performance in the bunch (which is also pretty impressive). Fans of quality television will of course recognize lead actors Carlos Bernard (from 24) and Matthew St. Patrick (from Six Feet Under), both of whom deliver very strong work. Like a clever screenplay, charisma is an inexpensive but very valuable asset for a low-budget genre flick, and both actors perform very well on the "likability" scale ... even if one of 'em is playing a murderer.

I'm not sure how Warner Bros. plans to market Alien Raiders, but it's not so much a blood-soaked monster-fest as it is a very cool mixture of action, sci-fi, and just enough horror to keep the fans happy. Director Ben Rock (who once upon a time designed all those creepy stick-people for The Blair Witch Project) is clearly a big-time genre geek -- his debut is filled with sly references to guys like Carpenter and Romero -- but he's clearly a guy who knows how to stretch a budget. For the price of a normal flick's catering budget, he delivers a surprisingly quick-witted and consistently engaging genre stew that's just cool enough to make us wonder about a Part 2....

(Alien Raiders should hit DVD shelves by late February of 2009.)