Directed by Michael Shumway
Distributed by Altitude Film Distribution
Aliens invade with ferocity and plasma guns in director Michael Shumway’s low-budget sci-fi flick Alienate, and troubled husband David (Webb) finds himself in the thick of it as he desperately tries to return home, cross-country, to his all-but-estranged wife.
Told in a temporally fractured narrative style, Alienate slowly unveils the disintegration of David’s marriage to Amy (Langton) as the stresses of their respective careers and divergent goals slowly tear their relationship apart. In the meantime, David’s driving through a land virtually bereft of human life, occasionally coming across small groups of fellow survivors and encountering the blaster-wielding aliens along with their ships and drones.
Amongst the survivors that David encounters is Samantha (Hayes), with whom he quickly forms a bond – but it doesn’t take long for Alienate’s characters to cease revealing further layers to themselves (Samantha, for example, loses her own partner in the film’s opening but seems less than crushed about it later on). While the relationship issues between David and Amy do feel authentically drawn, there’s little connection to be felt between most of the players. Instead, the film cruises along on markedly sombre autopilot until it reaches a conclusion that is both simultaneously brave and undercooked.
As it jumps back and forth, the narrative tries hard to inject some life into the proceedings, but the pacing never really takes off – resulting in a series of morose vignettes and set pieces that seem anxious to explore themes of loss, hope and the human spirit, but are too often obscured by the strange emotional fog that hangs over it all. This same kind of against-all-odds road trip has been executed to much better effect in Zak Hilditch’s superlative Australian effort These Final Hours. Alienate falls far short of this bar.
Still, Shumway has a good eye for effects – setting up a number of striking visual sequences when the aliens are around, and the creatures themselves are pretty cool. Kind of reptilian in appearance, the cone-headed extraterrestrials skitter and zip through the frame, even making use of cloaking technology to give the characters a few unexpected frights. Anyone familiar with the XCOM series of video games should be suitably pleased with the presentation of the invaders.
Use of CGI scales from awkward to impressive given the budget constraints, and the action sequences add a little kick when they crop up… but they’re mere blips in a consistent flatline of a film, errant signs of life.
The film’s score alternates between generic made-for-Syfy fare and a simple, yet nicely affecting piano overture that underpins the emotional beats. It’s just a pity that it isn’t backed up in these moments by enough strength of character to make it truly work. As a director, Shumway shows a good deal of technical prowess and promise – but he needs a much better script behind him to avoid the kind of disappointment that Alienate delivers by the time all is said and done.
Altitude Film Distribution brings Alienate to UK DVD sporting only the trailer as an extra.