Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Virginia Dare, Scott Paulin, Don Keith Opper, Morgan Weisser, Norbert Weisser
Directed by Albert Pyun
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
While most of the media will remember 2007 as the year of the writers’ strike and the baseball scandal, what stands out most in the horror genre is the resurgence of cinéma-vérité as a viable and potent means of storytelling. From Romero’s Diary of the Dead (review here) to the Spanish thriller [REC] (review here) to indie upstarts like Paranormal Activity (review here) and The Poughkeepsie Tapes, some of the best films of the past 12 months have been crafted in the realistic pseudo-documentary style. Now along comes 2005’s Invasion (formerly known as Infection) on DVD to close out the year on a high note — and it’s from Lionsgate of all places! Nice to see they can still find a few gems in the rough to help us forget the not-so-great stuff they’ve been releasing lately.
Directed by Albert (Cyborg, Nemesis) Pyun and starring a group of relative unknowns, Invasion tells its story in one of the most unique ways I’ve ever seen: via a surveillance camera mounted on a police car. It’s prom night in the small California town of Lawton, and while most of the cops are busy rounding up rowdy kids after the dance has ended, a meteor shower is causing some problems of its own. A local man named Jenkins has contacted the sheriff’s office about some sort of anomaly associated with one of the meteors he found in a state park several miles outside of town. Deputy Brick Bardo (Paulin) is sent to investigate. Along the way he encounters a man on the side of the road with a broken down vehicle. Promising to return or send help as soon as he can, Bardo heads deeper into the woods. Teen-age lovebirds Cheryl (Dare) and Timmy (M. Weisser) are hanging out in the park as well, having gone there after the prom for some privacy to discuss the status of their relationship.
Bardo is driving a state-of-the-art patrol car that boasts not only the aforementioned camera but also a “Picture In Picture” setup whereby he can both verbally communicate with his commander at headquarters, Deputy Ben (Opper), and see him on a small screen imbedded in the windshield. Which means we can see him too, answering my first question as to how long an audience would be able to tolerate watching only what the fixed camera shows us. But it isn’t long before some sort of electrical interference starts screwing with the PIP, our first clue that maybe there’s more to these meteors than first thought. Bardo comes upon Jenkins, and it’s immediately apparent that something has happened to him. He’s staggering around with a jerky, almost zombie-like walk and a strange voice. He approaches Bardo and vomits something black and squiggly into his ear. Bardo transforms instantly into a similarly acting creature and then heads off in his car looking for more victims.
He comes upon Cheryl and Timmy and attacks them. Timmy is overcome, but Cheryl manages to escape in Bardo’s patrol car. Everyone should be able to guess what happens to the poor man with car trouble. From then on, Invasion becomes a real nail-biter as Cheryl, with Deputy Ben’s assistance and fatherly support via the car radio, tries to evade her pursuers. Ben is working with a Dr. Franks (N. Weisser) to figure out what’s going on and communicates their findings to Cheryl and, by extension, the audience. She basically drives around the park in circles for the next 45-50 minutes, which I know sounds terribly tedious and dull, but, in the able hands of Pyun and his young star, winds up being one of the most compelling pieces of filmmaking this reviewer has seen in years. Just when you think, “If I see that same group of trees and outhouse one more time, I’m going to scream,” Pyun and his sound design team throw some intense and creepy noises into the mix. Couple that with a number of weird and unnerving shadowy visual effects, and you’re immersed in a full-fledged movie-going “experience” that you’ll want to share with friends. On a technical level it’s quite an achievement: one continuous 63-minute shot with a simple stand-alone wrap-around that begins and ends the story in a nearly perfect manner.
It makes one wish that the DVD included at least one special feature that delved into what went into making Invasion. But alas, all we’re given is a handful of Lionsgate trailers. No commentary, no cast and crew interviews, no featurette with Pyun and screenwriter Cynthia Curnan explaining their inspiration. It makes me hesitant to recommend purchasing Invasion since it’s hard to justify spending money on such a bare bones release, but fans of cinéma-vérité and sci-fi/horror hybrids owe it to themselves to rent it at the very least. Its novelty will certainly grab your attention, but it’s Pyun’s masterful execution of Curnan’s brilliant script that will keep you watching. The man may have been maligned over the years for being too avant-garde and experimental for the mainstream, but his technique of challenging cinematic conventions has never worked better than it does in Invasion. Hopefully his next few projects will build on this momentum and provide movie-goers with even more chills and thrills.
4 out of 5
1/2 out of 5
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