'Occupation': Film Review

Loud and proud.

Luke Sparke’s sci-fi actioner finds a motley cast of spirited Australians fending off a desperate alien attack.

If aliens had decided to attack the Earth somewhere in eastern Australia instead of the U.S. in 1996, the result might have been more like Occupation than Independence Day. Lacking that blockbuster’s star power or staggeringly over-the-top effects, writer-director Luke Sparke’s second feature settles instead for a group of plucky rural residents attempting to repel an otherworldly onslaught.

Good-naturedly gruff, unabashedly resourceful and proudly Australian, Occupation gets the job done with a minimum of fuss and an abundance of explosive set pieces that will likely endear it to domestic fans, even if it’s mostly forgettable otherwise.

Apparently life in small-town Australia goes on much as it does in the rural U.S., with people working blue-collar jobs or farming a patch of land to supply their needs, with maybe a bit left over to sell at the local market. For Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing), toiling on the local road crew doesn’t pay much, but it’s enough to get by combined with his girlfriend Amelia’s (Stephany Jacobsen) waitressing wages. More importantly, his laidback lifestyle allows him to pursue his passion for football, even though he’s constantly locked in an intense rivalry with team captain Jackson (Charles Terrier). 

Neither expects their weekend game to be violently disrupted, least of all by an alien sneak attack, as spaceships materialize overhead and begin strafing the pitch below. Fleeing into the forest surrounding their town, they grab Amelia and Jackson’s pregnant girlfriend, Vanessa (Rhiannon Fish), joining up with recently released ex-con Peter (Temuera Morrison) and his daughter, Isabella (Izzy Stevens), as well as local farmer Arnold (Charles Mesure), who knows the area better than most. Once they establish a command post and accumulate a cache of weapons, the survivors begin probing enemy lines, discovering that the invaders are bipedal extraterrestrials with ugly insect heads that coincidentally survive on the same ratio of oxygen and nitrogen that supports terrestrial life. 

That’s right, as soon as the aliens get the full onscreen treatment, they’re revealed to be a bunch of extras in metal-plate armor and molded prosthetic headgear. They don’t even seem to have a leader, instead forming some kind of hive-type collective on their mission to take over our planet. Although their motivations for occupation eventually emerge, it’s never quite clear why they’re forcing captive Aussies to grow field crops, unless perhaps they’re vegetarian slave masters looking to corner the intergalactic market on fruits and vegetables?

Before the humans and aliens can settle their differences, however, there will be plenty enough firefights, sneak attacks and aerial bombings to justify the movie’s ticket price (but maybe not the cost of concessions). The special effects budget appears to be confined primarily to the enemy spaceships and weapons, however, with many of the action sequences relying on traditional pyrotechnics, which don’t match well with the digital SFX.

Since this is a disaster movie, the ensemble cast prevails over individual performances. This dynamic fortuitously provides the women with multiple opportunities to put the alpha males in their place with well-targeted humor, so at least there are a few chuckles among all the alien-bashing sequences.   

Although it clearly wants to be a big, bad B movie, Occupation closes out more like Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 District 9 than a typically triumphant American sci-fier. While that approach may sap some satisfaction from the outcome, at least it preserves the possibility of a sequel, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Distributor: Saban Films
Production companies: Pinnacle Films, SparkeFilms, Filmmode Entertainment
Cast: Dan Ewing, Temuera Morrison, Stephany Jacobsen, Rhiannon Fish, Zachary Garred, Izzy Stevens, Charles Terrier, Charles Mesure, Trystan Go, Felix Williamson, Jacqueline McKenzie, Aaron Jeffery, Bruce Spence
Director-writer: Luke Sparke
Producers: Carly Imrie, Carmel Imrie
Executive producers: Geoff Imrie Russell, Luke Sparke
Director of photography: Tony O'Loughlan
Production designer: Stewart Burnside  
Costume designer: Tracey Rose Sparke 
Editor: Luke Sparke
Music: Christopher Elves
Casting director: Carly Imrie

Rated R, 119 minutes