I suppose I could listen to the audio commentary that director Ben Rock posted online not too long ago and find an answer, but I wonder if the original script for ALIEN RAIDERS bore the same title. Even if it was intentional, a moniker as generic as that does no justice in selling on accuracy. A title like ALIEN RAIDERS implies a low budget, low talent premiere on The Most Dangerous Night of Television. Ben Rock’s film may be low budget and I’ve no doubt that the Sauron eye of the Sci-Fi channel has this indie in its acquisition sights, but ALIEN RAIDERS is a head above its namesake.
Watching it I was reminded of another recent indie buzzer (coincidentally purchased post production for a Saturday night premiere on the Sci-Fi channel), SPLINTER (review). Fortunately the memory ends only in contrast. Where SPLINTER’s ambitions were skewered by an inability to deliver on the grandiose, ALIEN RAIDERS finds inventive ways to disguise shortcomings, transforming obstacles into merits. This is what indie horror is about.
Set entirely in and around a supermarket, Julia Fair and David Simkins’ script somersaults into an armed group who have taken siege of said market with the intent of rooting out an ambiguous parasite that has found host in at least one of the small town denizens. A hostage scenario ensues, cops are called, experiments are carried out, fingers are chopped off in the name of alien investigation. All the while the unlucky few left in the store have no inkling as to the true breadth of the situation. Neither does the audience, but mere minutes in Ben Rock convinces all involved should stick around to find out.
ALIEN RAIDERS is one half a hostage film, t’other half the precipice of alien take over. From the onset we’ve no contract as to precisely how things will go down and the result plays out as a satisfying mystery that maintains its enigma further and farther than most twist laden affairs do. Granted the final revelation becomes a notion well before its revelation, but that moment aside the script for ALIEN RAIDERS is its strongest attribute. It is sated with ideas and sequences that require subtlety, a trait director Ben Rock has proven married too. Setups may recall canonical scenes from some of the horror greats, most notably THE THING’s blood test, but Rock and co repeatedly find a way to stamp a new spin. A particularly smile inducing pay off is when we realize the Tupperware container the hostages have been given is for storage of their yet to be severed pinky, just one of several methods of outing a host.
The cast is strong, each member showing no signs of taking on the assignment purely for the paycheck. Welcome turns from Rockmond Dunbar (Mr. Fire from KISS, KISS, BANG, BANG) and Mathew St. Patrick (of “SIX FEET UNDER”) round out the more recognizable faces, while Carlos Bernard and Courtney Ford round out the less recognizable, though equally enjoyable cast. Roles big and small are given equilateral appreciation screen time and script wise, the latter of which regularly alludes to past events that help flesh out the characters without any need for further elaboration.
The show stopping effects numbers are spread far enough apart that the smaller budget massages out most of its limitations. When it comes time for the effects department to shine it shows little sign of fatigue, exhibiting just enough to be satisfied. The downtime between is packed with intrigue, which helps dilute the weight of otherwise heavy narrative sections. Passing over a few continuity snags (nothing deal breaking, mind you) that found their way into the final cut, the script is an otherwise sturdy piece of writing.
Having re-read that last paragraph, however, I don’t want to paint ALIEN RAIDERS as a dialog heavy, action lite take on extraterrestrial invasion. Ben Rock simply strikes a balance between the two, subverting the pitfalls of leaning too far either way. The end concoction is a welcome brew of brisk indie fun. Rock never sticks his head far enough out to invite ridicule, which may be the reason RAIDERS lacks any jaw dropping ‘Holy Shit’ moments, but inversely there is nothing here to offend the sensibilities of any sensible genre fan.