With all the alien invasion films in existence its hard to create something entirely new. With that said, Luke Sparke’s OCCUPATION squeaks by with a delightfully compelling flick that will pleasantly surprise viewers as it twists the subgenre away from an often overdone, melodramatic structure. Instead of hopping between world capitals in a cascade of action shots, CGI explosions, and lens flares (ok, maybe scratch that last one…) we find ourselves submerged in the comparatively microscopic scale of small-town life of rural Australia. Its here where OCCUPATION really shines, even if at other points it clearly falters.
Lets make it clear, OCCUPATION is as much about the dynamics of small town life as it is about an invasion. The challenges, conflict, and relations of the main characters are all filtered though the films setting. Diving straight into this dusty, sun bleached town we are exposed to old rivalries, budding relationships, and all the drama of small town life. The character depth here is stellar. Viewers will take sides in feuds, be annoyed at outsiders looking down at the town, and endeared in the ways our main characters are building their lives. So much so, you may even temporarily forget what kind of film you are watching, and when you do the tension starts to rise before the sight of anything ominous. The pay off here is due to a great cast including Dan Ewing (playing Matt a former Ruby player turned construction worker), Stephany Jacobsen (playing Amelia, Matt’s girlfriend), and Temuera Morrison (playing Peter, an ex con trying to make up for past sins with his family). The only let down in this regard, is despite all the character exposition, and all that is thrown at these characters- forced colonization, war, death, and total loss of the world they knew- we don’t see any significant character development.
What was done well, was done extremely well, and carried the film into being an enjoyable viewing. But ultimately the biggest criticisms can be attributed to how a film focused around its characters morphed somewhere towards the end to being about the larger conflict. Which led to times where the pacing is off, either plot points feeling too rushed or having moments come across as just a tad too drawn out. That might have been resolved if the choice was made to produce this story as a a mini series, rather than a cinematic feature. In that format characters could develop, pacing problems could have been resolved, and we would have been more emotionally present with where the creators of this story wanted us to be. But in the time frame of 1 hour and 59 minutes there isn’t enough space for both these narratives to cohabitant and flourish.
So, do you reward a film for doing things differently, even if they could have done those things better? I guess that depends on which quality you value more. Certainly if you are looking for fun movie night, give this a shot. But if you are looking for something ground breaking, you may finish this film feeling shorted.
OCCUPATION is now available to own on Blu-ray (plus Digital), DVD and Digital from Lionsgate