Film Review: Occupation

This sci-fi-action/drama tells a familiar story and aims high with some cultural commentary that doesn’t quite click, but its ambitious edge and focus upon character keep it compelling, while the pleasing clichés work surprisingly well.

Australian writer/director/producer Luke Sparke’s previous pic and feature début, the monster movie Red Billabong, had a scene-stealing CGI bunyip yet wasn’t especially interested in the cast, but this rectifies that with a script that tries hard to make the people believable and inject some emotion in between all the explosions.

Unusually, this begins with a War Of The Worlds-type ominousness as one of Ronald Reagan’s most infamous speeches plays over aerial views of Sydney. It’s a real sound clip where Ronnie suggests that this divided world would be unified if we were forced, as one, to fight off a threat from space. Then we skip to the heartland of small-town Australia (actually Murwillumbah, NSW) and witness a collection of sorts preparing for a major football game and a local festival, completely oblivious to what’s about to happen. Maybe they should watch more movies?

Footy legend Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing, also in Red Billabong) is introduced first up, along with his tough partner Amelia Chambers (Stephany Jacobsen), his bestie Jackson (Charles Terrier) and Jackson’s pregnant girlfriend Vanessa (Rhiannon Fish), who is handily also a student nurse. Passing through town is ex-con Peter Bartlett (Once Were Warriors’ Temuera Morrison), who’s trying to reconnect with his family, especially surly teen-queen Isabella (Izzy Stevens), and on the fringes we find the homeless and hopeless Dennis (Zachary Garred) as well.

They’re quite a bunch, and when alien spacecraft attack during the big match, they all wind up together in Peter’s caravan, along with Amelia’s cluey brother Marcus (Trystan Go) and cowardly country crooner Seth Grimes (Felix Williamson), and hide out for a while at an isolated property owned by grumpy farmer Arnold (Charles Mesure). These ten characters are all familiar and even, at times, types, yet we like them anyway. Sparke is sure to give them appealing quirks, heavy blow-up scenes, moments of redemption and several slow-mo running-into-heroic-battle highlights.

Perhaps a bit long and drawn-out at almost two hours, there’s nevertheless much here to enjoy, from the amiable playing to the scary extraterrestrials (bug-eyed, bad-tempered nasties) to a line in tensely funny humour to Sparke’s ability to make a limited budget look far greater than it in fact was, just like other indie heroes including the late great George Romero. It does still strain a little as it attempts to humanise the aliens and trips over a ‘Why Can’t We All Just Get Along’ edge, but the rest is coolly entertaining and should prove a nice break from endless and anonymous American fodder.

Rated M. Occupation is in cinemas now.

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