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Occupation

Year: 2018
Production Co: SparkeFilms History Design
Director: Luke Sparke
Writer: Luke Sparke
Cast: Dan Ewing, Temiera Morrison, Jacqueline McKenzie, Aaron Jeffrey, Bruce Spence, Roy Billing

The trailer for this movie looked like just another generic alien invasion epic, but when you see the camera panning slowly across a major Australian city it piques your interest. Australia has a long and sometimes ignominious history of making Hollywood-style movies about fantastical subjects and it's always worth seeing what a local director can do with a concept, especially given the fact that budgets in Australia are a fraction of what they spend on the same kind of film in America.

The first thing is that there's no Michael Bay-level destruction sequences with Sydney skyscrapers or the iconic Opera House blowing up or falling over (although a cute final scene takes place on the ruined Opera House Steps). It's all set and filmed in and around the small country town when the invading alien army descends.

After spending a little while setting up the lives, loves and conflicts of the characters everyone's watching the AFL game at the town stadium when the power cuts out. Lights appear in the sky, and the alien scout craft zoom overhead, firing their blasters at all and sundry and causing utter mayhem.

In classic action/war movie fashion, the disparate group of people we've already met collect together to escape the melee, holing themselves up in the bush while they worry about missing family members and try to figure out what to do next.

What they decide to do moves the film into the territory suggested by the title, Occupation being very much the theme and mood. Like another Aussie war film of recent years – Stuart Beattie's Tomorrow: When the War Began – it's about military action rather than the sci-fi epic the alien motif might otherwise suggest, the increasingly desperate survivors mounting and executing an effort to fight back.

Writer/director Luke Sparke has been a jobbing technician in Australian films for years, and you can tell he's internalised decades of classic Hollywood action/war/sci-fi cinema. Like a lot of movies from this part of the world of this stripe it doesn't do anything new, more concerned with emulating the best of the way Hollywood does it (and occasionally stumbling – certain things like the local accent and archetypal Australian outlook on life don't really suit the subject matter) rather than do anything groundbreaking.

For that reason it's certainly great or original – you've seen every character, line or idea done better elsewhere – but it's hard not to be swept up by the earnestness of everyone involved. The actors give the script everything they have and take the proceeedings seriously. Sparke stages and shoots several sequences that really grip you and do interesting things with sound and image. The pyrotechnic and VFX budgets aren't stratospheric by any means but the movie has the courage of their convictions, making them work.

A little more work could have been put into the frankly silly creature designs, but who knows – that might be Sparke's nod to classic sci-fi cinema where the antagonists were always stunt people and actors dressed in dopey suits. It might also be that the aliens are mere cyphers, the script more interested in the themes of military resistance rather than intergalactic hijinks.

Similar movies have been quite painful to watch, but the performers and action sequences hold onto you until the final scene, and you can't ask for much more than that.

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