Terrifically Disgusting Kids vs. Aliens is a Waste of a Gorily Good Idea
Jason Eisner’s Kids vs. Aliens has the same issue the director’s V/H/S 2 installment “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” had: it never makes a case for being anything more than a potentially good idea. The short version was sadly the least interesting story in that otherwise excellent 2013 horror anthology, and this 75-minute elongated variation is similarly disappointing. I wanted to like it, but frustratingly, I never did. Other than being a nice showcase for some terrifically goopy practical gore and makeup effects, there are sadly not that many positives to talk about.
The game cast of youngsters does give it their all, so that is also worth celebrating. There are scenes where relative newcomers Phoebe Rex (as teenage outcast Samantha) and Dominic Mariche (as her aspiring John Carpenter-meets-Steven Spielberg little brother Gary) undeniably shine. They have an energetic vitality that’s invigorating, and if the remainder of the movie were only a little better, I think I’d be a lot more forgiving toward it than I sadly am, thanks to their dual charms.
It’s Halloween weekend, and Samantha and Gary’s parents have once again left them on their own to go on another of their seemingly endless “business trips.” But instead of helping her brother finish filming his epic fantasy action opus in their barn with his friends Jack (Asher Grayson Percival) and Miles (Ben Tector) like she promised, Samantha has inexplicably given local bad boy Billy (Calem MacDonald) permission to hold a raucous costume party on their property.
Unsurprisingly, this was a mistake. Not only is Billy using Samantha by pretending to be attracted to her, but he and his besties Trish (Emma Vickers) and Dallas (Isaiah Fortune) also intend to humiliate their shy, nerdy classmate in ways that will make her a social pariah. It’s more trick than treat, and all three reprobates plan to take extreme pleasure in watching Samantha dissolve into a depressed pile of emotionally devastated goo in front of their entire high school.
Then the alien invasion starts.
Eisner has never been a subtle filmmaker; he did make Hobo with a Shotgun, after all. But while Billy’s antics are purposefully cartoonish — he’s basically a teenage Snidely Whiplash, the only things missing being the black trench coat and the sinister mustache — that does not make him inherently interesting. Worse, he’s not scary. It’s a given Billy is going to act like a selfish prig, out only to save himself, the only question being at what point the mask will drop and everyone, including his supposed “friends” Trish and Dallas, will see him for who he truly is.
Then there are the aliens. Their initial attack is as ominous and as eerie here as it was in the original V/H/S 2 version, with Eisner using blinding white light and an ear-splitting horn to signify the arrival of these interstellar creatures. But the assault on the party is over and done with so swiftly that if viewers blink, they’ll likely have zero idea who got kidnapped, who got away, and who is still left to play the hero in the immediate aftermath. It all becomes a frantic visual blur, and not in a manner that could be construed as mysterious or suspenseful, just exasperating.
The journey into the spacecraft is somewhat cool, Ewen Dickson and Michael Pierson’s inventively clever production design in particular. Also, not to repeat myself, the makeup and gross-out effects are frankly incredible. There’s a melting bit that’s so gloppy and revolting that fans of that sort of thing will likely want to let out a hearty cheer, while a transformation sequence not too long after that is creatively abhorrent in all the best ways.
Shame that it’s all for naught. The last act is a frenetic nightmare, and while there are a couple of slick moments, most involving Samantha; a mysterious sword; and a flurry of WWE-inspired wrestling moves, Eisner’s insistence on pressing down fully on the gas peddle and not explaining a single darn thing quickly becomes tiresome.
As stated, much like with “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” there is a nifty idea sitting at the center of Kids vs. Aliens. Too bad Eisner and his talented team don’t end up doing anything equally nifty with it.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)