Directed by Rupert Wyatt
The story begins at the end point of an alien invasion. Every government on Earth has capitulated and the world is in the process of preparing humanity for alien rule. A father and his family in a panic are trying to escape but during the escape both parents are killed.
Nine years later the youngest son, Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders), is living in an impoverished Chicago community just trying to survive. His brother Rafe (Jonathan Majors) is missing and presumed dead after leading a failed resistance movement. Gabriel finds himself increasingly involved in a world of deceit and intrigue involving a conspiracy with more and more connections to him.
I mostly like this movie because the aliens have already subjugated the planet. They are a fact of everyday life that people have more or less come to accept. That’s not normal in the invasion genre. Usually the film opens with the aliens coming and then some brave hero comes up with a brilliant way to fight them or just drive them off. Somehow our technology and our knowledge and our abilities and our can-do spirit is equal if not superior to the aggressors.
Here we lost. In fact, it’s implied that humanity gave up with virtually no effort and now it’s up to the every day citizen who is always monitored and always observed to take the planet back. And time is not on humanity’s side. The aliens are sucking the planet dry of every resource they can find and plan on leaving a dead husk and humans here to die. There are human collaborators and they know this. Most if not all are playing along hoping they can get a ride off the planet before it’s a dead husk.
There are lots of twists and turns in this movie as the plot is built on a very complicated conspiracy to stop the aliens. In the story, access to modern electronics is virtually impossible. The Legislators, as the aliens are called, have set up jamming equipment all over the planet. Records, old radios and landline telephones are what’s in use. Our limited technology in the face of their superior tech is what necessitates the intricacies of the conspiracy in the movie. Or at least that’s the implication.
I enjoy the lack of heavy special effects and alien technology in this movie. We know the aliens are there. We know they exist. This is well established. You’re not getting continuously beaten over the head with that reality. They establish the presence in words and film environment. You see a handful of drone-type devices and what can best be called a mech but nothing much else.
In the end the whole conspiracy connects back to Gabriel. All the major players in the movie were all connected to his father since before he was born. And that’s a flaw in movie. Too much is connected to the character of Gabriel. He seems to have a very high yet poorly defined level of importance to the majority of the characters in the film. Yes, they all knew his father but why is Gabriel in particular so important to them? Were they that good of friends with his father? Or did they see his father as some type of martyr of the alien invasion? I’m not sure and there really is no explanation offered.
More broadly, everyone’s lives intertwine with everyone else’s lives whether they realize it or not. Even at the end, Gabriel’s girlfriend Rula (Michele Brewer) is in the same elevator as Gabriel‘s father’s police partner William Mulligan (John Goodman) who has been promoted to Acting Commissioner and is on his way to meet with the aliens for the first time. That right there is a big coincidence in and of itself. Was she tied into the conspiracy too? That’s never made too clear but given the connections all the other characters have it seems logical. It helps bookend the movie but it’s a little too much for me.
The movie focuses a lot on the mechanizations of the plot/conspiracy to start an uprising against the Legislators does so at the expense of character development. Gabriel seems to be there more to allow the audience to experience what’s going on rather than move the plot along as a participating character. He’s dragged along by events.
Strangely by being dragged along, Gabriel is the only character that manages any growth. At the beginning he is focused on his own situation and still pities himself for what happened with his family. By the end he sees that it’s not all about him and that there are greater things to worry about. It’s noticeable growth but he’s the only one that changes in any way. The rest are static throughout. It’s not a bad movie but it’s not without its flaws. The conspiracy is overly intricate, and a lack of character development hinders what could have been an amazing film. It does benefit from being a different spin on the alien invasion genre with humans having decisively lost. That’s a plus in its favor. It’s well shot and well-paced and the acting is good. It won’t be a disappointing watch, but it fails to achieve its full potential.