OCCUPATION RAINFALL

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Luke Sparke

Stars: Daniel Gillies, Dan Ewing, Temuera Morrison, Lawrence Makoare, David Roberts, Jen Tranter, Zac Garred, Trystan Go, Mark Coles Smith, Jason Isaacs, Ken Jeong, Dena Kaplan, Izzy Stephens.

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A group of resistance fighters try to defend the planet against an invading alien force. We’ve seen this sort of thing before on the screen, with films like 1996’s Independence Day, 2010’s Skyline, from the Strause brothers, and in 2011 with Battle Los Angeles, based on a video game. But we’ve never really seen it from an Australian perspective until 2018’s Occupation, from Sydney based filmmaker Luke Sparke. This sequel takes up the story two years after the events of the first film and is more ambitious in scope and scale than its predecessor. And it doesn’t really matter if you haven’t seen the first film as a quick voice over narration sets up the scene, and much of the action takes the film in new directions and stands alone.

The resistance movement that has sprung up to defend Sydney is fighting a desperate but losing battle against overwhelming odds. When the city is destroyed the survivors head off to mount a rear end defence in a secret military installation in the Blue Mountains. They are led by the ruthless and dictatorial Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies, from Vampire Diaries, etc), who is prepared to do anything to win the war and he wants all aliens dead. But his command is fracturing as opposition to his methods begins to take hold amongst some of his forces. Abraham (David Roberts) and Amelia (Jet Tranter taking over from Stephanie Jacobsen) are caught between their sense of duty and their conscience and believe that they should be doing more to help the friendly aliens amongst them and insist on trying to broker a peace deal. Dennis (Zac Garred, from General Hospital, etc) tries to ensure that the military installation is defended, mounting a massive military operation. Captain Wessex (Mark Coles Smith, from Last Cab To Darwin, etc) leads the defence of the military base.

Resistance fighter Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing, from Love And Monsters, etc) and his alien sidekick Gary (Lawrence Makoare, from the epic Lord Of The Rings, etc), a defector who joined the resistance, head off to Pine Gap, the American military installation in the middle of Australia, to discover more about the mysterious and highly classified project known as Rainfall, a weapon that could turn the tide against the alien invaders and their superior technology.

Along the way they stop to rest at a village of refugees sheltering from the war, under the leadership of Peter Bartlett (Temuera Morrison, from Once Were Warriors, etc).  Bartlett and Marcus (Trystan Go, from The Family Law, etc) accompany Matt to Pine Gap. There they encounter Bud Miller, (Ken Jeong, from Community, etc) an eccentric scientist, and his alien companion Steve (Jason Isaacs).

Occupation Rainfall is a lot grittier than the original with some large-scale action sequences directed with verve by Sparke, who maintains a frenetic pace for much of the two hour running time. Sparke is obviously a fan of the sci-fi/alien invasion genre, and the influences on the look and direction of Occupation Rainfall are obvious. His script follows several narrative strands here, cutting between the various storylines, and attempting to explore some big themes. However, obviously Sparke expects to create a franchise as not all of the various strands are neatly tied up.

The rumoured $25 million budget can be seen on the screen with a barrage of pyrotechnics, CGI and green screen special effects, costumes and creature makeup, and a couple of spectacular action sequences created by the same team who worked on films like Thor: Ragnarok. There is some impressive production design from John Anderson, and the cinematography from Wade Muller captures some post-apocalyptic images as well as the great wide open spaces of Australia’s interior.

However, there are a few missteps along the way. Characterisation is slim and we don’t really get to identify with some of the characters who remain largely underdeveloped. As Miller, the usually annoying Jeong largely improvises his dialogue, but his cringeworthy attempts at humour here and his comic byplay with Steve are grating and seem forced, and do not really fit the tone of the rest of the material. And, unfortunately, much of the dialogue is pretty cliched.

Made on a much smaller budget and with less resources than most similar films from Hollywood, Occupation Rainfall still delivers, and fans of large-scale sci-fi action should enjoy the film. It will be interesting to see what Spark delivers in the inevitable sequel.

★★★☆

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