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Attack of the Unknown (15)

Director: Brandon Slagle
Screenplay: Brandon Slagle

Starring: Tara ReidRobert LaSardoRichard Grieco

Review: RJ Bland

Low budget sci-fi horror has been a staple of the genre for decades. It arguably had its heyday in the 50s and 60s with releases such as It Came From Outer Space (1953) and Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) and Attack from Space (1965). B-Movies seemed to vanish from our screens for a few years however there has been a bit of a resurgence of late, with a TV channel seemingly dedicated to lowbrow fare (The SyFy Channel, in case you were wondering). There's clearly still a market for films with no arthouse pretensions that don't take themselves too seriously. The horror community is one of the least snobby groups out there too and whilst we're delighted to have serious works like The Shining and The Witch to laud, a lot of us also have time for some no-frills schlock. Mahal Empire Productions is a company that has produced a number of genre indies recently (including the hugely enjoyable Art of the Dead) and their latest feature - Attack of the Unknown - is their latest title that tries to satiate those B-Movie cravings.


The film begins with an LA Swat team (led by Richard Grieco and Douglas Tait) launching a sting operation and capturing an elusive crime boss called Hades (Robert LaSardo). It comes at a cost though as one of the team is killed during the operation and once they have their man in custody, the FBI begin interfering. The Swat team are enlisted with the task of transporting Hades to County Jail after tip-offs are received that Hades' life in danger. However, an assault from rival gangs is the least of their worries. A small spaceship crashes and soon an EMP like surge brings the city to a standstill. With their vehicle disabled and a large alien ship looming overhead, the team try and navigate their way to the County Jail although the aliens that are rampaging through the streets make their task a lot more difficult...


Attack of the Unknown is exactly what you expect it to be; a mixture of low grade action, inconsequential filler, thinly drawn characters and a high concept albeit slightly flimsy plot. However, that's exactly what you want when you go into a film like this and there's plenty of fun to be had. Although it seemingly starts off as a crime thriller, it isn't long before it turns into a full on alien invasion flick. Indie film-makers with modest budgets are often advised to write their stories accordingly. Keep it self-contained, keep the visual FX down to a minimum, only use a small cast. Well, Attack of the Unknown ignores all of that and instead tries to recreate the feel of a blockbuster action film. Shootouts, alien motherships, explosions – it's got all of these and you have to admire the ambition to create something that often feels like it wants to operate in the same universe as Independence Day or Skyline. It also looks good too, with some slick cinematography from Michael Su. The effects are obviously not at the same level but are generally effective. The decision to use practical effects for the otherworldly antagonists is also the right choice. They look a little hokey at times but that only adds to the B-movie charm. We'll take a person in prosthetics over CGI every time.


And while we don't have Will Smith as the leading man, we do have Richard Grieco who, despite sporting a haircut that makes him look like Anton Chigurh, offers a solid enough fulcrum for the action. Douglas Tait adds some on-screen gravitas too and whilst there are admittedly too many characters for us to really care about, the plot doesn't waste much time in trimming down some of the numbers.


There are of course problems and ones that ultimately stop this from being anything other than a perfectly watchable sci-fi actioner. It's about fifteen minutes too long for a start and there are scenes and characters that once the film has finished, feel rather superfluous. Tara Reid is barely in it too (she appears in a rather unnecessary flashback sequence) and Robert Donavan isn't in it enough for our liking either. The sheer amount of plot and characters unfortunately makes it feel a bit too thinly spread at times and it suffers from a lack of focus in the middle-act. There is a lot of talking and not as much action as you'd like.


How much you enjoy Attack of the Unknown will ultimately depend on your expectations going in. Set them for an ambitious but inconsistent Sci-Fi B-Movie that probably takes itself a little too seriously and you'll have some fun. If you're hoping for something thoughtful, affecting and emotionally engaging then you're probably better off watching Arrival.

Although it is uneven, a little bloated and somewhat formulaic, Attack of the Unknown still offers up enough action and amusement to appease those looking for some lo-fi B-movie thrills.
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