The Australian alien invasion flick Occupation: Rainfall (now in cinemas) is a fun sci-fi mash-up that wears its influences on its sleeve, writes critic Travis Johnson.
On the heels of 2018’s wildly ambitious Occupation comes the next instalment in writer and director Luke Sparke’s sci-fi opus. Did you miss the first one? Never mind, the premise is simple: we’ve been invaded by aliens and we’re fighting back. Cue pyrotechnics.
If Occupation was Red Dawn but ‘Strayan, Occupation: Rainfall is Independence Day and the post-apocalyptic bits of The Terminator, but ‘Strayan. Opening with a blistering running battle through the ruined streets of Sydney, the film looks the business; while it’s no $150m blockbuster, every dollar of Rainfall’s reported $25m budget is up on screen, with refitted utes careening through blasted streets, blazing away at the enemy with tray-mounted machine guns, while fighter jets trade sidewinders with laser blasts from alien ships in the skies above. It’s frenetic, energetic, fun, and a notable step up in Sparke’s technical skills as a director.
Then we settle down into the plot, which sees country footy star turned resistance fighter Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing, looking tough with facial scars and a sawn-off shotgun) heading off to Pine Gap in search of “Rainfall”, a mysterious weapon that can apparently turn the tide against the aliens. Back at the resistance base fellow fighter Amelia (Jet Tranter taking over from Stephany Jacobsen) must contend with the ruthless Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies), who has no compunctions about torturing aliens, which is a bit thorny considering there are allied aliens fighting alongside the human partisans.
Indeed, much of Rainfall is a kind of buddy road movie. Our man Matt has a sidekick in the form of alien “Gary” (Lawrence Makoare), and his rather flattened character arc involves learning to see his companion as a friend rather than an invader. Look, it’s not the most original of threads, but Sparke is of a generation of filmmakers who wear their influences firmly on their sleeves. It’s nods and references all the way down. That’s why rebel warrior Captain Wessex (Mark Coles Smith, and somebody give him his own action movie) has a headset just like Kyle Reese’s in The Terminator—the familiarity is a feature, not a bug.
Besides, Rainfall is fun—and that’s what counts. You get Community alumnus Ken Jeong as a scientist who’s been holed up in Pine Gap for too long. You get Ewing and Makoare riding alien horses, and that kind of big feature effect may just be a first for Australian cinema. You get the always reliable Temuera Morrison presiding over a refugee village in the mountains, and British import Jason Isaacs as…actually, that’s better off being discovered on the screen. You get your fair share of exciting action set pieces and the odd po-faced attempt at gravitas that these things require. Every box is ticked.
Occupation: Rainfall is pretty much exactly what I want out of a low budget SF actioner. It’s brisk, sometimes brutal and its widescreen ambitions are occasionally hampered by its fiscal limitations, but never undone. Its only major fault is a tin ear for dialogue, which is a pretty forgivable sin on this particular street of the genre ghetto. It’s clear that Luke Sparke won’t be working with small budgets for too much longer, and I can’t wait to see what he does with all the toys in the box in a year or two or three.