By: Oberst von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
It is 1979 in the Ohio town of Lillian, and a group of teenage filmmakers are finishing their Zombie movie. While filming late one night, aspiring makeup effects artist Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) witnesses a truck driving wildly on the tracks as it crashes headlong into a fast-moving military freight train. The resulting accident leaves a wide area of destruction, and leaves Joe’s father and Sheriff’s Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) working overtime.
Strange disappearances of people and electronic equipment start to awaken the sleepy steel mill town, with more and more reports jamming the phone lines of the sheriff’s station. Meanwhile, the young camera crew takes advantage of the crash scene and the town’s military buildup in the name of “production values”.
Production values are important…
Eventually, it becomes clear that a monster is loose in Lillian, and as the army struggles to find it, so do the curious teens.
Steven Spielberg might not have officially directed this film, but his trademarks are all over the material. It is a throwback to classic monster movies, but with a little more style and a focus on characters over cheap thrills. It centers on a group of kids whose daring and youthful naiveté about the dangers of their actions endear them to the audience. And they are given real life problems to deal with that make them more believable. There is a palatable sense of adventure, youthful energy, and wonderment throughout that Spielberg hasn’t managed since Jurassic Park. Fans of “coming of age” films such as The Sandlot, or Stand by Me, and particularly Spielberg’s own ET and the grossly underappreciated Empire of the Sun, should be thrilled.
Director J.J. Abrams has given a real gift to 20-30 year old audiences by not only creating a movie in the style they grew up on, but by making one with just enough extra adult themes and horror movie scares to give it a life of its own beyond simple nostalgic fancy. Especially compelling is Elle Fanning in the role of a neglected slightly tomboyish girl with a natural knack for acting. It signals her career as officially “not ruined” by last year’s The Nutcracker in 3-D. It takes a strong and distinctive performance to come back from a Christmas musical featuring Nazi Rat-People hunting anthropomorphic toys and executing them in furnaces.
Yes, they made this, and yes I have a review of it, and yes, it is meant for children
(But you’ll have to wait for the Holidays!)
(Spoilers ahoy, Nitpicking to follow)
The Military seem to have come from the Michael Bay School of Safety, deciding to pack a train containing a dangerous creature with thousands of pounds of highly explosive material. That they chose to move the creature at all seems to defy explanation. But what kind of force-field were these kids using that allowed a million tons of steel and gallons of liquid death to rain down on them to no effect. And to that point, how the fuck did the guy driving the truck survive the crash? Last I checked, a freight train crashing into a pickup head on was roughly equivalent to Shaquille O’Neal crushing an empty soda can underfoot.
Speaking of Nostalgia trips…
Also, how does a small pickup truck derail a heavy freight train to begin with? Ok, I suppose it is possible, but trains hit cars all the time without it happening. Just saying…
(And the spoilers continue!)
I don’t fully buy that the monster doesn’t kill the kids near the end of the movie. I get that the Alien has some sort of psychic power it can share with people when it touches them, but this was a monster driven to murderous insanity from years of government experiments. He has no reason to spare humanity, and the only person who showed him any mercy or tried to help him was dead. The film would have benefited greatly from a scene that established some reason for the monster to spare the children. There is already a story-book feel to the film, so why not turn young Joe Lamb into a modern day Androcles? Still, it is a fairly forgivable flaw in an otherwise wonderful movie.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever you get a nerd or fat joke. Or a “quiet girl proves she has what it takes” moment
Take a Drink: every time someone turns around just in time to miss seeing the monster
Down a Shot: anytime someone says “wow” or otherwise expresses amazement.