If you thought 2015 would bring an end to horror’s found footage obsession, you’re a silly, optimistic soul who doesn’t understand what makes these films perfect studio fodder. Alien Outpost isn’t even the first found footage film I’ve seen this January, but thankfully it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the competition – only by comparison. Writer/Director Jabbar Raisani goes about reinvigorating one of my least favorite horror genres – alien invasions – and actually makes the extraterrestrial assault more enticing than it probably should be thanks to a video-game-like intensity favoring run-and-gun shooters. Raisani might have developed his special effects skills beheading noble types throughout Game Of Thrones, but the budding talent shows an eye for visual grandeur and succinct delivery in his future-blasting directorial debut.
Raisani’s vision takes us to a post-war-torn Earth after alien forces attempted to invade. Even though the battle is fierce and costly, humans prevail and the other-worldly insurgents pull what forces they can back and launch into outer space, but many “Heavies” are left behind to still threaten humanity in small bursts. With the danger of “Heavies” still looming, outposts are set up in an effort to ward off smaller attacks, and we follow two journalists as they gain access to an Iranian location dubbed Outpost 37. What the two camera-wielding journalists expect to do is interview soldiers and get their perspective on whether another alien invasion will occur, but they instead walk into the most violent backlash that Outpost 37 has ever faced.
Alien Outpost most certainly comes across as a low-budget effort once we’re introduced to a platoon of generic soldiers, rushing towards an outpost built with scrap aluminum and sandbags, but after meeting the first “Heavies” on open grounds, we’re greeted by sleek intergalactic soldiers who don’t echo the same dialed-back production. The “Heavies” are restricted in motion, repeating the same lumbering march over and over again, but that’s to be expected from muscly aliens donning weighty, metal armor – so Raisani gets a pass. Independent genre films sometimes struggle with VFX creatures or animated techniques, but Raisani’s villains come off like something you’d face playing Mass Effect, except they blend into reality, unlike rubber-suited actors or pixelated eyesores.
As mentioned before, although neither cameraman draws a gun while filming, Alien Outpost feels every bit like an intense first-person shooter. Many action sequences are filmed as Outpost defenders shoot outwards into valleys and hillsides crawling with advancing forces, somewhat like playing Time Crisis (best arcade shooter) where you hold a pedal to duck, then release and pop up to gaze upon the battlefield once more. By mixing alien and human targets thanks to mind-controlling techniques that eventually leak out (don’t worry, that plot point is hidden in plain sight), audiences aren’t stuck watching aliens push towards the outpost one sluggish step at a time, charging their blasters and letting an explosive ball of plasma fly. It’s a bit like Battle Los Angeles (I can feel your eyes rolling), putting human soldiers behind enemy lines, but Raisani and his writing buddies keep a brisk pace when blindly sprinting deeper into galactic chaos.
Then again, Raisani’s film is generic sci-fi warfare at best given obvious circumstances and a stronger focus on visual effects, as it thrusts nondescript jarheads into life or death scenarios won by whoever sprays the most bullets. While you might remember a few character names, especially ze German fill-in named Hans who’s a certifiable European badass, no performances are worth our infatuation – not even a stone-jawed leader played by Rick Ravanello. Movies like Starship Troopers mix charisma and exaggerated fun with alien-squashing action, and even though Alien Outpost comes across as “The Little Engine That Could,” Raisani’s safety in simplicity pales in comparison to genre showstoppers whose budgets at least gift filmmakers a fighting chance.
Alien Outpost delivers exactly as promised – there are aliens who attack, and there’s an outpost inhabited by grizzled, battle-tested human soldiers. You shouldn’t run out seeking Raisani’s energetic effort as if it’s the end of the world, but with nothing else available, this paint-by-numbers thriller should satiate your appetite for blue laser beams and exotic killers for least a night. Raisani and company do what they can with the hand they’re dealt, and capture the fury of war in a dystopian future where “Heavies” threaten daily lives even though a larger-scale war already proved Earth isn’t a planet worth messing with. Alien Outpost is essentially the peanut butter and jelly sandwich of science fiction action, proving that with a few simple ingredients, you can still walk away with a tasty-enough treat – just don’t expect anything elegantly indulgent.
Alien Outpost delivers aliens, outposts, and a surprisingly more in-tune action watch than expected.