Now that awards season is in its final lap, I am starting to go back to one of my guilty pleasures: watching independent, mindless action films. When I say mindless, I am not saying the cast and crew behind the work is dumb or boring. What I mean is that I do not have to give much thought to the film.
There is no deeper meaning or hidden message in these films. You get guns or lasers, explosions, fighting and a plot that is so straightforward that a child could follow it. Toss in some over-the-top drama in the slow moments and sprinkle in some humor along the way, and you have your audience hooked. They can turn their brains off for a couple of hours and just enjoy the simulated violence.
Many of these fun flicks can be found across the streaming media sites, but just a quick glance through Netflix brings up titles like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Code 8 and A-X-L. While there are literally hundreds of independent action movies offered, only a handful are actually entertaining. I know I said that you can “turn your brain off” and while true, the film must be good enough to immerse yourself in. The moment something hits that portion of your brain where you can’t help but think, “WTF was that” you are dragged back into the real world.
To be truly entertained, you have to believe in some deep aspects of your mind that you are in the movie. It’s a concept I learned in my years of working in the haunted-attraction industry, and it works in cinema, as well.
In my safari to find a gem, I stumbled upon the 2020 Australian film, Occupation: Rainfall. As the sequel to Occupation (2018), it picks up with the story of a human army taking the ground battle to their alien invaders. The war seems to be at a stalemate when the humans hear rumors of a device called Rainfall that could possibly turn the tides of war to the faction that controls it. Hoping to stop the aliens from finding it first, the resistance sends freedom fighter Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing) and his alien-turned-hero sidekick, Garry (Lawrence Makoare), on the mission. During their journey, fellow resistance fighter, Amelia (Jet Tranter), aims to find a diplomatic solution to the invasion, while Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies) adopts a kill-them-all approach.
With these two polar opposites, the battle not only wages between humans and aliens, but between soldiers, as well.
First off, after watching Occupation: Rainfall, I had to look up its budget. The film was budgeted at A$25 million ($17 million USD), which I find incredibly low for the quality of CGI it presents. According to a story on Bloody Disgusting, the film’s extensive use of digital effects was done by some of the VFX artists who worked on Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Blade Runner 2049. With TLJ costing between $200 to $317 million and Blade Runner 2049 checking in at $150 to $185 million, Saban Films got an amazing deal. For being an independent film from relatively unknown director Luke Sparke, the quality of the work done, visually, is on par with movies that cost 10 times as much to make. Everything looks incredible.
As far as the story, Occupation: Rainfall is very easy to follow. Even without seeing the first film (which I have heard from other reviews was very difficult to understand), I was able to jump into it and get the gist of what previously happened. Basically, aliens came to Earth, attacked Australia and almost won, if not for a ragtag group of rebels fighting back.
Sparke took this basic understanding for granted, but it paid off. The movie moves on very well in its plot of retrieving the MacGuffin, with the usual twists and turns one would expect to happen to the adventurers (new companions joining the search, battles with aliens, a new threat that could defeat the humans). Through the majority of the film, Occupation: Rainfall is a serious action/sci-fi film with some light-hearted moments to keep things interesting. But later in the film, the movie turns to the more unnecessarily silly humor.
Imagine Han and Chewbacca going on a mission to retrieve a weapon that could stop the Death Star in its tracks, but when they arrive, Jay and Silent Bob are protecting it. That takes the audience out of being invested and makes them remember it’s just a movie. The illusion of being a silent part of the story is broken, and it is near impossible to recover.
All in all, Occupation: Rainfall is almost the perfect popcorn flick for action/sci-fi fans. It is a great combination of Starship Troopers, War of the Worlds and Guardians of the Galaxy. It is the most visually appealing sci-fi movie I have ever seen from an independent studio. Still, the abrupt change of tone 80 minutes into the film ripped me out of the immersion, and there was not enough time left to get me fully invested again.
Occupation: Rainfall gets four out of five stars, which is currently streaming Netflix, so check it out if you have the service. This is truly one of those rare gems in the sea of drab, uninspired movies that make up the majority of Netflix’s offerings.