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Occupation’s promotional campaign had me all in. I’ve been promoting this movie almost weekly since the trailer launched. I booked a business class seat on their hype train because finally a film had come along that I thought I could truly connect with.
Having grown up in regional and rural Australia as a geek kid with a love for movies (especially the apocalyptic science fiction kind) every time those pesky aliens or monsters came to wipe us out, it was always a world away, in New York or San Francisco or Tokyo.
This time they were going to show up in Murwillumbah, at the showgrounds, in the middle of a local footy game. Perfect.
We’ve started to refer to Ozploitation when talking about Aussie films recently, which is a throw back to the Aussie films of the late 70s and 80s that were made on small budgets with a tax system that allowed movie production to thrive. It resulted in a diverse range of films, highly original with little regard for the mainstream.
With the release of films Blue World Order, and directors with the calibre of Leigh Whannell coming home to work on smaller budget productions like Upgrade. The blood of Australian Exploitation Cinema is back in the water.
It pains me to say that Occupation is half a beat off the pace though. It’s too much Blue Heelers not enough Turkey Shoot. It’s like Independence Day in Summer Bay, or Wandin Valley.
Writer director Luke Sparke is no stranger to the Aussie B movie scene having brought us the very average Red Billabong in 2016. Sadly he hasn’t learned much, again merging Aussie soap style direction and dialogue with a cult genre.
The story is about a small and diverse group of locals whose town is invaded by aliens. They escape the initial attack and go about building a resistance determined to rescue their families and take back their town. Together they learn to cast aside their differences and work towards a common goal, with lots of dramatic moments in between.
It’s very derivative. Think Red Dawn, but instead of commies you’ve got these aliens who look reasonably menacing, until you remove their helmets. Then they just look like people wearing giant latex scrotums on their heads.
The resistance is made up of Home and Away’s Dan Ewing and Rhiannon Fish, Charles Terrier from Neighbours, Arron Jeffery form McLeod’s Daughters, Underbelly’s Izzy Stephens and Charles Measure who you might recognise from V and Desperate Housewives,
Then you’ve got the A cast. Battlestar Galactica’s Stephanie Jacobson, The Great Gatsby’s Felix Williamson, Jacqueline Mackenzie who you’d know from Deep Blue Sea or the Water Diviner and Jango Fett himself, Temeura Morrison, who gets a chance to unleash some Jake the Muss rage on the aliens.
It’s not pleasant to come down so hard on a local production that you really wanted to be awesome but you’ve got to hold it to some type of standard.
Luke Sparke made this film with a fraction of the money that you would see from most blockbusters these days. It cost around $6 million US dollars. At the other end of the scale, the cheapest movie from Marvel Studios cost $140 million. However, a small budget is no excuse for making a bad film. Upgrade, which I reviewed recently, cost around $5 million to make and it was fantastic.
The verdict (long version)
Explosions seem to be where most of the special effects budget went for this one, and they look impressive. However they could have dialled back the pyro and spent some more on the creature design because I’ve seen more convincing monsters in re-runs of Doctor Who episodes from the 70s.
They spend a lot of time on character development and drama but the dialogue is so terrible that the delivery misses the mark entirely and you aren’t given an opportunity to connect with or care for any of the characters. In the wake of an alien apocalypse, they take it surprisingly well. I don’t know about you, but if my family were vaporised at the footy by advanced alien technology, I’d be fucking hysterical.
The cinematography is average at best with a steady reliance on things like the infamous JJ Abrahms lens flare and some more unconventional tricks like turning the camera completely upside down which is incredibly jarring. It felt like my eyes were haemorrhaging by the end of it.
The editing is terrible. The battle sequences are all over the place and the reliance on slow motion in almost every action sequence is annoying and boring. They use it so many times that it sucks any kind of impact out of what might be a key moment, but you’ll never know because you’ll be bored shitless by the time said moment arrives.
The verdict (short version)
I’m so disappointed by this film. In the lead up to it’s release I encouraged people to skip the blockbusters opening the same week and see this movie to put some money back into the local industry. I found myself throughout the screening trying to excuse things I would not pass in a Hollywood equivalent, and you can’t do that. You’ve got to hold it to a standard.
If Occupation was offset by a great story like Blue World Order, maybe I could forgive some of it’s flaws, but it isn’t. It blatantly attempts emulate a blockbuster instead of shooting for something original.
Sadly the rural Australian setting wasn’t enough of a point of difference to carry a terrible story and chintzy production.
Even at it’s best it was no match for Hollywood’s worst.