Alien Outpost/Mankind's Last Stand (2015)
A documentary crew follows an elite unit of soldiers in the wake of an alien invasion.
This one was brought to us via IFC Midnight, which is a pretty well-known VOD-distribution company for those who run in these circles. They've acquired and released many great fun genre titles in the last several years, such as Alien Abduction, Extraterrestrial, Dark Summer, The Pact and its sequel, Inner Demons, The Babadook, and Hangar 10 just to list but a few in their vast catalogue of acquisitions. I actually really enjoy a lot of what these VOD-distribution companies put out, and among them IFC Midnight is easily one of my top favourites, sharing the spot only with the equally-awesome Magnet, which is the company responsible for bringing to our T.V.'s and computers such modern classics as The Troll Hunter, the [REC] movies, the VHS trilogy, The Last Days on Mars, Stage Fright, and The Protector 2, to name a few in their equally-vast library of titles. I seriously cannot get enough of either IFC or Magnet and always look forward to whatever they release next. And luckily for me, IFC's most recent, Alien Outpost, also turned out to be one of my favourites!
Alien Outpost picks up ten years after an invasion by aliens dubbed The Heavies happened and they were held off and eventually retreated, leaving many of their kind behind. Various Outposts were set up around the world to monitor for and seek out the remaining Heavies and the movie takes place at one such outpost, located in Afghanistan. If any of you have seen the war documentary Restrepo, this movie is pretty much a cross between that and District 9, in that this was made in the style of a finished and polished faux-documentary, very similar to Europa Report, complete with a very effective musical score, talking head interviews, overlaying text narration, and clips of news reports, but, you know, with aliens.
I love found footage in general, but some movies I feel just don't need it and could have been even better had it been a traditionally-shot movie. The Dinosaur Project and Frankenstein's Army are two other such ones I feel that way about, and there were many times during this movie that I was thinking to myself that, while as cool and fun as this flick is, there was almost no reason for it to be found footage-esque and could have been even better had it just been a regular movie. With that said, the first person camera perspective here really helps make you feel right there in the war zone alongside these soldiers, with bullets whizzing by and explosions going off all around, and the fact that it's not so much found footage per sey, but done as a finished documentary, helps make it feel a bit more fresh and professional than the average found footage fare.
This 'documentary' follows one military unit as they arrive at the rundown outpost that's been left in disrepair, and after they get hazed in by the current soldiers stationed there they start bonding with them and play various games and goof off and do whatever other activities they can come up with to pass away their boredom in between their regular patrols of the area as the days go on, during which time we kind of get to come to know many of these soldiers and start feeling attached to them. Because of that, we actually give a shit when, during a routine patrol, the platoon is ambushed by the Heavies and their commanding officer is taken prisoner, and in another part of the movie one of the younger characters is taken by surprise and suddenly killed off with no warning. Very often in these kind of flicks you just don't care much about what happens to the characters on screen, but this movie went above and beyond to make you get to know these people and care about them. Of course that wouldn't be possible if the actors were crap or eye-rollingly bad, but they were all actually really damn good and believable. There's not a wide range of characters outside army soldiers and a couple cameramen, but everyone played their roles well, never once taking me out of the moment. I also love how the one Japanese character was nicknamed Zilla, which is an obvious and comedic (though perhaps somewhat racist) nod to Godzilla.
These soldiers spend the next chunk of the movie trying to find where their C.O. that was taken prisoner and, after that, the remainder of the movie deals with a platoon of Heavies, teamed with a large group of mind-controlled humans, launching an assault on the outpost on their way to marching onwards to invade the main HQ in the next town over, and it's up to our main cast of soldiers to stop them at the outpost before that can happen. Following that, they launch an off-mission counter attack on a nearby alien fortress where...will let's just say a good handful of those soldiers we've come to enjoy watching during the movie don't exactly make it out alive.
One of the things I loved most about this movie is that even though it takes place in the year 2030 or thereabouts, give or take a couple years, most most of the uniforms, weapons, vehicles, and other gear are very modern-day, at least from the human side of things, giving the entire movie a modern war movie kind of vibe, but with aliens, which only adds to the realism factor. Interesting to note though, that the lasers of the Heavies have sound effects that sound almost identical to the Covenant Needle Guns of the Halo games. Actually, more than once this movie will remind you of the Halo games, for many reasons.
Of course none of that would matter much if the movie dropped the ball on the special effects like so many B-Movies do, but surprisingly they were top-notch here for the most part. Both the CGI stuff as well as the practical were all above and beyond what you would expect from a direct-to-video 'found footage' style movie, and I was constantly kept amazed at the level of effects work throughout. The only moments of effects that weren’t really up to snuff with everything else were any scenes with that god-awful CGI smoke that felt really out of place with how well all the rest of the CGI is, and one scene where a captured Heavy has it's head blown off at close range was laughably bad.
That one shot of the Heavy having its head blown off aside, what we see of the aliens are really really good and well-done, easily the best effects work I've seen in such a low budget affair in a long time. Unfortunately the aliens themselves, outside of some news footage scattered around here and there and a couple quick shots, are hardly even in the movie for the majority of it. I suppose that's a testament to how good the movie actually is though, and how engaging the human characters are to watch, because it took me until the last 20 minutes of the movie before I realized that the aliens have hardly even been in it up to that point. Luckily though those last 20 minutes are heavily action-packed and exciting, and unlike most found footage style movies, the action is actually quite well-shot and really easy to follow.
Sure, I may have a few minor nitpicks with it, but really, the positives here heavily overshadow any minor nitpicks and I was pleasantly surprised with just how good Alien Outpost, aka Mankind's Last Stand turned out, both from an entertainment standpoint as well as in terms of how well it was made.
It's certainly not the light-hearted, fluffy, turn-your-brain off, cheesy kind of B-Movie that the SyFy Channel airs or The Asylum makes, this is a far cry from the Sharktopuses and Mega this vs Gigantic Thats of the genre, so if that's what you're looking for you won't find it here, but if instead you're hankering for some down and gritty serious war action, something closer to Restrepo or Black Hawk Down but with aliens, this is where you can look and, if you're anything like me, you'll have a blast with it.
9/10 Rooms in the Psych Ward