Sometimes being critical is easy: when you feel like someone is lazily making something purely for money, especially when the money is vast in its amounts. Then sometimes you get something that is clearly trying for something and it’s clear what they’re trying to do but it falls at a few early hurdles and you can’t in good faith ignore that, but it feels somewhat crueller to pick on these things. Especially when it’s clear that there is actually ambition at play.
With this, I introduce you to Alien Outbreak. The sophomore feature by English director and visual effects artist Neil Rowe, it concerns a Sgt. Zoe Norris, a police officer in the Devon countryside dealing with a mysterious wave of violent suicides and potentially, an alien outbreak. There is a lot to admire about this as Rowe demonstrates a showcase for his effects work and ability to streamline plotting, keeping it to the bare bones while not feeling under-developed and allowing moments of character to invade without making characters monologue when it would be very inappropriate to do so.
As a lead, Katherine Drake makes a suitably firm hand to centre a film around, providing a compelling centre and a realistic sense of confusion to the outlandish surroundings. The rest of the cast are solid, there’s no real standout supporting performance but that’s to say no one is stellar but no one is awful either. If there’s an occasional tossed away line or two, it somewhat adds to the grittiness of the tone.
The shooting style and direction befit this, keeping things handheld and murky. While this is occasionally frustrating in terms of visibility, it does help to shave some of the harsher edges off some of the effects work which, while reasonably smooth, doesn’t look at its best in broad daylight.
Now, if the film has one problem, and this may just be my copy, but it is the sound mixing. A lot of the acting aims for an almost-mumblecore level of realism and it isn’t helped by it almost sounds like a lack of post-production on the dialogue to make it legible. This leads to certain plot points and character beats being muted in effect because you don’t catch what they’re saying unless you rewind, turn the volume up and stick on the subtitles.
Equally, while the film begins strongly, getting straight into the action, it does suffer from a weaker middle act, meaning that by the time it hits the slightly better final stretch, it’s a little too late to really hit with any impact.
As a film, it’s not great, it lacks tension at times and things are just a bit too muddy in style to comprehend. But as a showcase of the potential of its lead and its writer/director, it’s not too bad. Especially considering the low-budget status of Alien Outbreak, I’d love to see what Rowe and Drake could do with more resources to work with.
Dir: Neil Rowe
Scr: Neil Rowe
Prd: Neil Rowe, Amanda Rowe
Cast: Katherine Drake, Richie Crane, Phillip Alexander Baker, Michael Terry, Ian Rowe, Chris Barnicoat, Peggy Salmon
Music: Amanda Rowe
Run time: 84 minutes
Alien Outbreak, available to own on DVD & Digital from 20th July 2020