REVIEW: Occupation Rainfall (2021)
While the Saban brand may be most famous for its Power Rangers ownership, by tipping its toes into the horror genre with a Wrong Turn reboot, or into the world of crime with the Barry Keoghan vehicle Calm with Horses, Saban Films is aiming to appeal to as wide an audience as conceivably possible. Their latest venture, Occupation: Rainfall, is a return to post-apocalyptic science-fiction, though this time armed with quadruple the budget of its predecessor.
Over two years after an alien invasion, a Sydney-based band of survivors strive for peace. Joining forces with a handful of the friendly visitors, soldier Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing) leads a ragtag bunch across the barren and war-torn Australia to find a solution to end the war, all the while living in the shadow of the titular Rainfall, a mysterious threat waiting to be uncovered.
With a much bigger budget at director Luke Sparke’s disposal following 2018’s Occupation, it becomes clear from the first frame where most of it was spent. Rainfall has a commitment to impressive shots of destroyed cities, showcasing it in all its glory as the camera weaves between dilapidated building in the wake of fighter jets and alien spaceships. There’s no hiding from it, this is an all-out sci-fi epic akin to the third act of Independence Day, placing dialogue at the very back of their minds and focusing on how they can visually astound.
Throughout, these major set-pieces had a surprisingly high level of quality to them from a purely visual standpoint; Sparke and his cinematographer, Wade Muller, evidently have a keen eye for aerial combat and film these sequences with genuine fun at their core. A wonderfully over-the-top but undoubtedly impressive shot of a fighter jet bursting through flames to wipe out an alien ship left a real impression; while such moments are few and far between as the film progresses, Rainfall never shies away from its endeavour to craft a visual spectacle for its audience.
The film’s budget does wear thin; the principal enemy, an army of faceless alien soldiers that would not look out of place in an episode of Power Rangers as it happens, leave something to be desired. Their clunky armour doesn’t always translate to effective hand-to-hand combat, resulting in a few camera gimmicks to mask any awkward tumbles. The alien leader, a robot who looks suspiciously similar to Transformers: The Last Knight villain, Quintessa, sticks out tremendously as a CGI creation against a green screen, and some of the creatures, while somewhat impressively designed (shout out to the inverted crab monster), come across as video game cutscene creations rather than enemies in a Sydney-wood blockbuster. The aforementioned whiplash is true from shot-to-shot, as the film manages to blend impressive CGI with some truly shoddy green screen work at the drop of a hat, and carefully angled shots of actors on lifeless post-apocalypse set environments speak to a film that ran out of money far too quickly.
Any good graces Rainfall had going for it regarding its expense, though, are tragically lost the second a human character not played by Ken Jeong sets foot on screen. The whiplash between such impressive visual effects and painfully wooden acting reminds you of a student film, with no one registering any emotion at any point during the proceedings. Quaintly referred to as Amelia The Human, Jet Tranter is an amalgamation of Sarah Connor or Ellen Ripley if they could only speak in army clichés. Dan Ewing plays Every Army Veteran Ever, complete with a distrust of foreigners, a cigar never too far out of reach, and a blatant drinking problem. Sadly, Rainfall struggles to overcome the stereotypical performances of its cast, and any momentum the film gains with its action scenes is rendered pointless by the time any of the main cast opens their mouths.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as a cliché ridden yet poignant performance by Lawrence Makoare as Gary The Alien breathes the occasional moment of life into it. Beneath the heavy prosthetic alien head is someone who feels close to being a well-rounded character, the outsider who simply wants to be accepted by the society he was inadvertently thrust into. Ken Jeong, too, is on hand to deliver the occasional humorous quip (“I staggered the lights myself” elicited a genuine chuckle), and while he is a blatant bit of stunt casting, Jeong is a reliably comedic performer, and when bouncing off an unrecognisable Jason Isaacs, the film threatens to be somewhat entertaining. Its central mystery, the oft-foreshadowed Rainfall, is a conceptually sound reveal, too, and speaks more to the franchise Luke Sparke so desperately wants to make by the film’s conclusion.
Any intriguing or entertaining moments, though, are too little too late. Rainfall adheres to the formula of every post-apocalyptic sci-fi that has preceded it, failing to add anything new to the genre and creating an overriding sense that this has all been seen before. It reminds you of other, better features like District 9 at various points, though never able to match any of the glorious heights those sci-fi adventures managed. Despite the occasional threat of entertainment and a solid concept at its core, Occupation: Rainfall fails to marry its impressive visual effects with an engaging story, leaving you longing for what could have been.
Occupation: Rainfall will be released on VOD on June 11, 2021.