Set in the near future and packing quite a punch, Alien Outpost (Outpost 37) is a sci-fi action film genre fans will absolutely want to check out in theaters or on VOD. Directed by Jabbar Raisani, the film’s pseudo-documentary style does a decent job of setting up a not too far in the future world (2021) decimated by an alien invasion turned into a years-long standoff. Pitting a small yet dedicated group of soldiers against a weakened but still overwhelming force in a small, deadly area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the men of Outpost 37 will face hazards and horrors from the aliens who have begun to use some of the locals to their advantage.
The film works well on a visceral level because despite some humorous banter flitting in and out between the soldiers, the tone is dead serious and believable to a good extent. It would have been nice to see more of the main enemy, though. Other than a short bit at the camp, those Heavies are only viewed briefly during action sequences and mostly at a distance. However, from the brief but impressive CG footage that opens the film and assorted “news” clips of destruction worldwide, we can see that they came, saw and almost conquered the planet. Troops around the world initially sent out to combat the Heavies end up stuck where they are thanks to the war dragging on so long that it’s become an underfunded albatross of a conflict. Yes, the movie can be seen as a heavy handed allegory, but it’s an entertaining heavy-handed allegory provided you’re not expecting epic battles and don’t mind the mirror the film holds up to current events.
Playing out as a series of brief interviews with the survivors of Outpost 37 interspersed with longer footage shot by the news team embedded with them, AO mostly gets away with its Restrepo meets District 9 meets War of the Worlds looks save for some dialog scenes that look a little too nicely framed and shot. That said, the movie does slide in a quick and excellent excuse for the use of super HD cameras (thus the mostly clean-looking video throughout), but it’s a throwaway moment shortly before a brief action scene. The cast does a good job with their roles, going for more naturalistic performances that make them seem more like actual grunts in the field than actors stomping on each others lines. Some viewers (and yes, critics) may find this seeming lack of superstar power makes the film less impressive. But it fits the documentary style perfectly because the last thing you want in a gritty war story is a too-famous face chewing the scenery.
In terms of action, there are only a handful of battle scenes, but they’re excellently done. The first takes place not long after a trio of soldiers (led by Joe Reegan) get dropped off in the middle of nowhere and make their way to Outpost 37. Another happens on a patrol where some of the men are ambushed and the final one takes up about the last half hour of the film. This isn’t a big-budget blockbuster, so Raisani has to make do with more real explosions and excellent sound effects than CG Heavies filling the screen. That said, combat scenes thrilling, well edited and definitely deliver the goods. Paying close attention to the plot as it spools out will also reveal why you don’t see as many aliens as you may be expecting in a sci-fi flick. Let’s just say the war of attrition has affected both sides of the conflict.
The cast also includes Matthew Holmes, Reiley McClendon, Nic Rasenti, Adrian Paul, Rick Ravanello, Sven Ruygrok, and a bunch of others you may or may not have heard of. As the replacements bond with the rest of the men at the outpost, the film picks up the pacing yet doesn’t overplay things when the action ramps up. Everyone does a good enough job with their roles, but as with any ensemble cast working together in a film packing in so much into its running time, some of the grunts may tend to blend together if you let your attention slip.
The visual effects are decent and you’ll also see that the film doesn’t over-future its military tech to the point of things being a hopped-up videogame. Yes, the troops end up using special rounds against the Heavies, but all the gear and vehicles shown at least look as real as possible (or are real). There’s a mention about the men having to strap their weapons to their bodies securely so neither Heavies nor any angry locals can grab their gear and those aliens not using their own weapons as much thanks to running low on ammo. This is a neat touch that adds an extra layer to the film and keeps it from looking like Independence Day with ground troops. Sure, that sounds cool and all, but AO wants you to slide into your seat and let what’s here sink in as a more “realistic” look at war and its effects on men.
One of the few weak points comes in a few one-note characters not being as smart as they need to be simply for the sake of the narrative. The arriving reporters are handed firearms and after skittishly refusing them, are told they HAVE to fight. However, you never see them receive any basic training in how to use those guns (not a good thing, as any smart gun owner knows). There’s also plot point smart viewers will latch onto before the soldiers do about missing locals who unsurprisingly, turn up during the last battle. The film telegraphs that particular punch early on in one tense encounter and savvy viewers will get what’s coming down the road. Amazingly enough, it takes a while for the men to understand what’s going on even after one of their own goes missing, is later found and clues them in right before the big battle.
While the scale of that big battle isn’t anywhere near the larger scale set pieces found in films such as Starship Troopers or even Battle Los Angeles, it seems that Raisani’s choice to focus on only a tiny part of a much larger war could be a good thing in the long run. There’s enough interesting groundwork laid here for this to become either a set of films going back and forth in the timeline set forth here. Or perhaps this could become a budget-conscious limited TV or online series down the road. While it’s not at all a mindless “rah-rah, gung-ho” flick at all, Alien Outpost manages to impress with just enough action in the main story and introspective moments in the interview sections to be worth a view.
Running time: 1:32, MPAA Rating: N/A, Score: B (80%)