June 5, 2020 The Blackout: Invasion Earth (Movie Review)
The Blackout: Invasion Earth is the latest flick in the apocalyptic Sci-Fi genre. In the film, everywhere on the planet goes dark and the only area left unaffected is a ring of land in Eastern Europe known as the ‘Circle of Life.’ Any attempts to communicate outside the Circle have fallen on deaf ears. So, the people within the Circle send out recon units to explore what has happened beyond their borders, and find nothing but corpses and devastation. Something caused the blackout and is killing off nearly all life on Earth, but what? And can humanity fight it off?
Directed by Egor Baranov (Sarancha 2014, S’parta 2018) and Nathalia Hencker (Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception 2011, Por Sofia 2016) from a script by Ilya Kulikov (Moimoi Glazami series, Chernobyl 2: Exclusion Zones series), the film cropped up at Cinequest in March 2019. However, it will be released on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, and Digital platforms starting June 2, 2020, via Shout Factory. The film is in Russian, but an English dub and subtitles are available on the physical releases.
Is the film worth picking up in the first place? Well, 1982’s Blade Runner and its 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049 are obvious inspirations. Its big techno-metropolis scenes with flying cars, the moody Vangelis-esque soundtrack, and even some of its scene’s color-coded cinematography really go for Runner’s vibe. Though it mixes it up with its recon unit somewhat resembling the platoon in 1986’s Aliens, and the things lurking in the dark recall 2001’s Pitch Black. The worldwide cataclysm even echoes a similar one in the 1990 anime A Wind Named Amnesia, only with light instead of memories. So, the film does mix up its sources.
The latter is an obscure stretch, as there are plenty of other global catastrophe stories out there. However, if that reference did not remind viewers of old-school anime, the film’s English dub would. The acting is uneven, with some performances sounding somewhat fine and others sounding forced and awkward. One can do worse, as it still stands above telenovela dubs or classic Godzilla films. Ultimately, though, this is a win for subs over dubs.
That said, it does stand strong in other areas. The visual effects, while not up to Blade Runner’s standards, are still solid enough. Some of it is noticeably CGI – notably the flying vehicles, cityscapes, etc. – but otherwise it manages to blend in naturally enough with the scenery and the use of physical locations and props, etc. Considering the film’s budget was approximately $5 million, it does a great job standing shoulder-to-shoulder to more typical Hollywood fare that cost much more.
The direction also helps, as it makes the most of its theme. In other films, the beasts in the dark would still be hyper-detailed, CGI things. Here, they are usually cloaked in the darkness like some flitting shadow. There will be a glimpse of an additional detail- a claw here or a fang there- but it is enough to give the viewer the hint that this is more than a typical alien invasion. If anything, it feels more like a Russian take on 2016’s The 5th Wave– a comparison not helped when a ghostly figure refers to the blackout as one of a series of waves.
The plot is at least more interesting than The 5th Wave, except it feels like a jumble. The synopsis sounds straightforward enough, but that is not including the romantic subplot between Oleg (Aleksey Chadov: Night Watch 2004, Day Watch 2006) and Alyona (Lukerya Ilyashenko: Dance with Me 2016, Dance to Death 2017), another involving Yuriy (Pyotr Fyodorov: The Darkest Hour 2011, The Duelist 2016) getting close to a reporter, an inner-city riot that feels particularly pertinent these days, and a mysterious villain called Id (Artyom Tkachenko: Indigo 2008, The Guy from Mars 2011).
As a result, the film gets off to a solid start, but sags around the middle as exposition is dumped and soldiers plod on from one empty residential area to another. It might have benefited from having a few minutes shaved off its runtime to focus more on its key plot points. Still, the action scenes are quite good, especially as things gear up for the big finale and its last twist in the tail. The film just asks for plenty of patience from its audience.
Ultimately, The Blackout: Invasion Earth is certainly a different take on apocalyptic Sci-Fi. It has a unique premise, and some different twists and turns along the way. That is not to mention the way it stretches its budget to match bigger blockbusters thanks to some good direction and solid use of CGI. However, the story is bloated, the pacing turns into a plod during its long middle act, and the dub performances are on the weak side.
If you have plenty of time and patience, then this film has plenty to offer. Otherwise, it is hard to recommend without an asterisk or two. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 3 out of 5 stars.