The Short View – Alien: Night Shift (2019) / Alien: Ore (2019)

For a look at the previous two shorts, Alien: Containment and Alien: Specimen, click here.


alien nightshift

Synopsis:
When a missing space trucker (Tanner Rittenhouse) is discovered hungover and disoriented, his co-worker (Terrance Keith Richardson) suggests a nightcap as a remedy. Near closing time, they are reluctantly allowed inside the colony supply depot where the trucker’s condition worsens, leaving a young supply worker (Ambar Gaston) alone to take matters into her own hands.

Running Time:
9 minutes

Directed and Written by: 
Aidan Brezonick


Alien ore

Synopsis:
Lorraine (Mikela Jay) longs to make a better life for her daughter and grandchildren. When her shift uncovers the death of a colleague under mysterious circumstances, Lorraine is forced to choose between escape or fighting for the safety of her family.

Running Time:
10 minutes

Directed and Written by:
Kailey Spear and Sam Spear


After watching four of these new Alien-related shorts, it’s clear that there is a lot to appreciate. But it has become increasingly noticeable that the shorts are insanely similar in their approaches. A female protagonist, trapped in a small space, facing off against some aspect of the alien life-cycle. Perhaps these elements were forced edicts from the folks at 20th Century Fox. If so, it’s disappointing the studio did not consider selecting shorts that stepped away from the Alien formula.

But, as previously mentioned, there is still a lot to appreciate. Ore, in particular, is quite refreshing in relation to its type of protagonist. While the previous three shorts (as well as Prometheus and Alien: Covenant) cast relatively young women, Ore chooses a much older actress as its leading-lady. Though seemingly a simple change, such a choice ably drives home the long-term oppression that Weyland-Yutani (the infamous “company” from the Alien Saga) delivers upon its helpless employees.

But “helpless” is also not a description that could be considered accurate when considering the complexity of Jay’s performance in the lead role. With the grime of long working hours streaked across her weathered face, her unbreakable sense of hope throughout the short is a testament to the actresses’ ability to create a believable life, despite our limited time with her.

In addition to this excellent performance, Ore also has the added benefit of presenting its protagonist as making one rather unique choice compared to the previous shorts. To reveal more would be too much of a spoiler, but its refreshing to see an attempt to do something different, despite the (assumed) restrictions.

Night Shift, however, doesn’t succeed in quite the same way. Though it possesses an astoundingly lit opening shot, the short overall has a bit of a pacing issue. The first act, for example, is a little meandering; especially considering it takes at least a third of its running time until all the characters are trapped in the mandatory “small space.”

The short also ends up being quite weak on the character front, with very little to differentiate the protagonist from the previous shorts. Also, while I appreciate it can be quite difficult to avoid cliches with such a brief running time; did we really need a street-wise-talking black guy who steals? (Though Richardson’s performance itself was very commendable.)

Overall, it’s clear that Ore comes out on top as the superior short, not just when compared to Night Shift; but also with all three previous shorts. Here’s hoping the best was saved till last with Alien: Harvest and Alien: Alone.

Game Review: Alien: Blackout (2019) – An Engaging and Spine-Tingling Mobile Followup [iOS]

Over the past couple of years there have been an innumerable number of storylines that could be said to have been abandoned too soon. The space-faring TV show Firefly or the ever meme-worthy Half-Life 3 are just some that spring to mind.

But for this writer there really have been only two pieces of media for which hope for a followup still holds out. The first being the colourful TV show Pushing Daisies, which ran from 2007-2009, and whose cancellation left my 19-year-old-self wallowing in tears. The second, and one far more relevant to this review, is 2014’s Alien Isolation.

While the critical response was somewhat mixed (though leaning towards the positive), and total sales were reasonable; it wasn’t quite enough to greenlight a sequel. For a game that, I honestly felt, did for the Alien Universe what Batman: Arkham Asylum did for the Batman universe, this was a bitter pill to swallow.

It was therefore hard not to have a level of apprehension when hearing about Alien: Blackout. Not only was it a mobile followup to the console brilliance of Isolation, but one that was developed by a completely different studio. That said, the final result actually ends up being a somewhat worthy follow up to the claustrophobic classic.

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Screenshot / © 2019 D3 Go!

Events kick off with the arrival of the USCSS Haldin at the Mendal Research Station. Four passengers come aboard only to realise that the space station has fallen to a roaming Xenomorph. Fortunately for them, Amanda Ripley, survivor of the events of Isolation, is also trapped on board.

Holed up in the Mendal’s air ducts, Amanda has used rudimentary technology to hack into the station’s holographic maps, motion trackers and surveillance cameras. With said technology she is able to guide the four trapped passengers to complete various mission objectives.

But there’s a catch. The various systems only have enough power to last 8 minutes before shutting down and plunging the entire area into darkness (hence the titular subtitle.) As such, a layered cat-and-mouse game begins, with the outcome being survival or becoming another tasty treat for the terrifying nightmare.

Despite the downsizing in scale, one significant carry-over from Isolation is the brilliant sound design. The hiss of the steam pipes, the slamming of metallic doors, and of course, the panic-inducing roar of the Xenomorph itself. Throw in the chilling musical accompaniment by Tommi Hartikainen, and you have a game that, in terms of fear-factor, does stand tall among the numerous entries in the Alien franchise.

Fair warning though, this is not a game that can be experienced like other “pick up and play” mobile titles. To really experience the game as it was meant to, it would be worth investing in a decent pair of headphones. Do so, and you’ll be treated to some heart-pounding sequences.

Along with the sound, the visuals also punch above the traditional weight of a mobile title. While what little we see on cameras is a clear invoking of Isolation, it’s still great to see the same love and affection in paying homage to the design styles of the original Alien movie.

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Screenshot / © 2019 D3 Go!

The gameplay is relatively simple, as you guide the characters to their various mission objectives by drawing a path with your finger. But the cameras and motion senses only cover certain parts of the station, meaning you can never be 100% sure where the Xenomorph might be. As such you can also order each character to either “stop”, “hide” or “hurry up.”

Along with the visual barriers, Blackout also institutes a power limitation; meaning that only a maximum of five objects (either doors, cameras or motion senses) can be active at any one time. With the eight minute limitation mentioned above, each level can become incredibly tense as you try to outwit the rampaging monster.

While there are a few bugs here and there, the biggest issue is that, unlike most games on either console or mobile, Blackout makes no real attempt to institute a learning curve. While the game does gradually increase in difficulty, the first level still more or less throws you into the deep end with only a minimum of direction as to how to do anything. While those that power through will eventually arrive at the engaging gameplay mentioned above, it’s easy to imagine a great many players being turned off before even properly getting out the door.


Clocking in at seven levels spread across 1-2 hours of gameplay, Alien: Blackout isn’t exactly the longest of mobile titles. But with shortness comes intensity and a strong attempt to, not only give us a worthy follow-up to Isolation, but also to present an engaging addition to the Alien gaming universe.

Overall Score:

four-stars

Alien: Blackout is currently available for iOS and Android (£4.99 on both platforms)

 

Short Scares At The 2018 Arrow Video Frightfest Film Festival

Now in its 18th year, the people behind the Frightfest Film Festival can easily hold their heads up high as the creators of one of the foremost film festivals in the British cinematic calendar. With premieres of some of the best in world horror and fantasy, you would be hard pressed to find a better celebration of independent film.

But while the bulk of the mainstream media attention is given to the features, there’s always a lot of fun to be had with the shorts. Of the four Short Film Showcases this year, I only managed to see one. But it was a good one, containing eleven films from the UK, Canada, Australia and the United States. Some were comedic, some horrific and some just plain weird. But all are some of the most memorable films I’ve seen in 2018.


We Summoned A Demon

1-wesummonedademon

Director: Chris McInroy
Cast: Kirk Johnson, Carlos Larotta
USA 2017
6 min

They just wanted to be cool. Instead, they got a demon.

Following two guys who just want to summon a demon, what stands out most about this fast-paced horror-comedy is its wonderful adherence to old school practical effects. In addition, though the film’s surroundings might be nothing more than an empty warehouse, it’s a sign of the script’s strength (also by director Chris McInroy) that the hilarious back and forth between the two leads stays permanently at the forefront.


Secretion

2-secretion

Director: Sarah Talbot
Cast: Jordan Hunter, David Parker
UK 2018
8 min

An unhappily married couple tries to ignore the grotesque, dripping stain that is growing on their ceiling.

Thank heavens I hadn’t eaten before witnessing this stomach-churning short (but in a good way!) Of all the shorts, Secretion is probably the most simplistic in terms of plot. But the ever increasing anger of Parker’s character, mixed with the skills of the sound designer elevates this black and white piece into something so much more. And when it’s finally revealed what’s causing the secretions? Well, I nearly threw up.


Pie

Pie-1

Director: Adria Tennor
Cast: Jessica Paré, Adria Tennor
USA 2018
11 min

Carol invites Annette over for homemade pie and after much prodding divulges her special secret ingredient.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film for nearly a year, and let’s just say it does not disappoint. Written, directed by and starring Adria Tennor, Pie presents us with the commonplace image of a middle-class housewife making a pie. But quickly the cherry-filled pastry becomes a gateway into something far more disturbing. With delightful performances from both Tennor and Paré, Pie ends up being a fruity insight into the underlying darkness of suburbia.


Devil Woman

4-devilwoman

Director: Heidi Lee Douglas
Cast: Marigold Pazar, Flame Kimball
Australia 2018
12 min

While searching for an endangered animal, Eddy gets bitten, and that bite is more infectious than it looks.

Brought to the big screen by Heidi Lee Douglas (who wrote, directed and produced), Devil Woman was the first of two more socially aware shorts in this showcase. While the end goal is to bring attention to the plight of the endangered Tasmanian Devil (which, in my opinion, it does so quite successfully); the choice to tell said tale through horror rather than a documentary was a stroke of genius. With strong camera work from cinematographer Meg White; Devil Woman ends up being the sort of film that entertains as well as teaches.


Tick

TICK-1

Director: Ashlea Wessel
Cast: Ava Close, Alexander De Jordy
Canada 2018
13 min

In a post-pandemic society, a vampire in hiding is forced to make a stand when confronted with the oppressive regime.

Rather than a complete film, it was hard not to feel that Tick was just a small extract from a much larger picture. But it’s a picture that both intrigues and captivates. Set in the snowy colds of Canada, Tick illustrates how even the youngest and most innocent can break in the face of oppression. With an intensely creepy and effective performance from the youthful Ava Close, there are strong echoes of the work done by Lina Leandersson in 2008’s Let The Right One In.

Click on over to page two for six more amazing shorts.

Review: A Quiet Place (2018) – Silence Makes For Cinematic Gold

The nature of being an aspiring screenwriter is that you have to read a lot of scripts. A LOT of scripts. Most of them tend to be older movies (or early drafts of older movies), and some of them drafts of a project never made. But every so often I receive a script for a film that’s currently in production and usually planned to be released in the next 12-18 months.

A Quiet Place was one such example. Having received the script in late 2017, what caught my attention was that it only ran 67 pages. For those of you not in the know, a movie script traditionally runs one page for every minute of screentime; so 120 pages will clock in at around two hours. But 67 pages means we’re talking about a film that barely tips over an hour. Why on earth would anyone agree to bring such a bare-bones script to the big screen?

So I settled down to read it. And to say I was blown away by page nine would not come close to truly describing how utterly awesome the opening of the script was. And as I continued it was clear this would be a film that would have to be included on my list of most anticipated films of 2018.

But the version of the script I read (written by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) would later be rewritten by director John Krasinski. As director he probably made numerous changes on-set too. So the million dollar question is… Is the final product as engaging and exciting as the script I read?

Short Answer: No.

Long Answer: No, because it’s a fuck-ton better.

a quiet place poster.jpg

The year is 2020 and society has been decimated. Strange monsters roam the world, hunting and killing humans. But these violent creatures, being blind, can only hunt their prey through sound.

Lee Abbott (John Krasinski), along with his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), lives deep in the countryside. Cut off from the rest of humanity, they struggle to teach their two children, Regan and Marcus (Millicent Simmonds & Noah Jupe), how to live in this new world. Together they learn new approaches and techniques that allow them to survive without needing to make a sound.

But there’s a problem… Evelyn is pregnant.

And so the challenge begins. How do you give birth to and raise a baby in a world where the slightest sound means death?


A Quiet Place choosing to tell its story without dialogue isn’t all that original when you think about it. After all, for decades all movies were completely silent. And more recent movies, like 2011’s Best Picture Oscar winner, The Artist; or last year’s The Red Turtle, show that this method of storytelling is still quite relevant. But like most great movies, it’s not the idea, but rather the execution. And it’s here that Krasinski, in his triple role as co-writer, director and star, absolutely excels.

Though only his third directorial feature (and his first horror), the skill Krasinski shows onscreen is one of a seasoned legend. For example, in a film where all information has to be presented visually, Krasinski knows exactly how long the camera has to linger, and yet doesn’t keep it so long that irritation sets in.

Credit must also be given to his casting choices, specifically the decision to cast an actual deaf actress as his daughter. Also, while casting his real-life wife in the supporting lead may smack of nepotism, how can you complain when it’s someone as accomplished as Emily Blunt? Her role, though supporting, is nonetheless just as important. Indeed, while Blunt and Krasinski’s characters imbue the classical traits of protective father and emotive mother, the mastery of the script allows the actors certain scenes to occupy the others’ traditional characteristics.

But, of course, sound is the most notable aspect of this feature; and it’s here that supervising sound editors, Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn, have absolutely outdone anything released so far this year, and likely for the remainder of 2018. From the quietude of footsteps, breathing and panting, to the thunder of screams and monster roars; each sound has been appropriated to wring the maximum amount of tension. It is an absolute masterclass of sound editing and a guaranteed Oscar nomination come 2019.

In fact, there’s a little bit in me that would suggest maybe the cinema isn’t even the best location to experience A Quiet Place. With silence such an integral part of the adventure, even the slight sound of rustling sweet packets, crunching popcorn or even light breathing can be hugely distracting. So if you happen to have a soundproof panic room on hand, perhaps watch the movie in there?

But despite the fantastic mergering of sound and image, the one downside would be the CGI effects. While the design of the monstrous creature is appropriately disturbing, invoking shades of the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise; the actual effects themselves don’t quite blend in with the surrounding environment. It’s hard to say, but perhaps a physical puppet would have made for a better choice.


While not as socially ground-breaking as last year’s Get Out, A Quiet Place is still a film that treads new territory, as well as successfully exploring the emotional fallout when the desire for normality clashes against the constant peril of death.

Without question this film should be considered one of the most original and well-executed horror films released this side of the millennium.

Overall Score:

five-stars

Photo Sources: Official Site, Official Facebook,