All flash and style but little substance in “Occupation: Rainfall”

Luke Sparke, “Occupation: Rainfall” (2020)

Here’s a brisk and flashy science fiction action film done on a small budget with plenty of Australian bravado and no little ambition to prove that the Australian film industry can compete with the big guns in Hollywood. The film is the sequel to the even lower-budgeted “Occupation” in which Kali aliens first landed in Australia and humans began forming resistance cells to fight them off. The action in “… Rainfall” takes place a number of years later after intense war between the Kali and the humans has left Sydney a smouldering wreck, the aliens having done their best to obliterate decades of bad urban planning and the humans living in the sewers like rats. Refugees, human and Kali alike (some Kali having decided to become allies of the humans), have come into the sewers but the extent to which they can live in peace varies, with some humans being more accommodating than others. The Australian military command discover from some aliens that the Kali enemy in the skies is planning a final offensive and is also seeking a mystery object hidden somewhere near the former US military base known as Pine Gap, in central Australia. The humans decide to evacuate everyone out to refuge in the Blue Mountains region west of Sydney and to send a team out to Pine Gap to find the object before the Kali enemy does.

The film then splits into two parallel plots, one in which the Sydneysiders just manage to reach their Blue Mountains haven, having narrowly escaped being blown up along with what remains of Sydney … amazing that the substandard buildings in Sydney managed to resist years of bombardment by aliens wielding far superior technology and firepower than what can be mustered by humans … and the other being a good cop / bad cop plot in which human Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing) and the Kali alien nicknamed “Gary” (Lawrence Makoare) must put aside their mutual suspicions and prejudices in order to work together and succeed in their mission to reach Pine Gap and discover what it is that the enemy wants. With stowaway Marcus (Trystan Go) in tow, Matt and Gary fight the Kali in an improbable aerial battle and take on a huge alien spider before finding refuge with a group of humans living in a country settlement. They meet the Bartletts (Temuera Morrison and Izzy Stevens) who decide to accompany the trio on their mission to Pine Gap.

In the meantime the Sydney refugees must contend with their own internal quarrels between Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies), who rules the Blue Mountains haven like a fascist leader and who has sent all the aliens into underground cells where they are starved, tortured and experimented on by people loyal to Hayes, and the more compassionate humans led by Amelia (Jet Tranter), the older sister of Marcus, and Abraham (David Roberts).

The plots run at a brisk pace and are very straightforward in execution with no twists, save for one where Matt, Gary and their followers reach Pine Gap and discover two loopy American misfits (Ken Jeong and Jason Isaacs) running the place. There are continuity issues – how are Matt, Gary and their team able to reach Pine Gap in a matter of two or three days through rugged countryside even with the help of Kali alien horse substitutes? – and both plots are heavy on delivering moral messages about tolerance, how adversaries become brothers in arms through mutual suffering, being humane to all and layering on the identity politics but light on character development and battle strategy. The misfits provide comic relief to the intensity of the film’s actions and main characters although the jive stuff sometimes holds up the action. Fighting sequences have all the reality of video-game battles and Hollywood fights in which the good guys are always vastly outnumbered 10 to 1 by the bad guys yet when the dust settles the good guys are the one standing tall among a heap of fallen baddies. At least the actors put in solid and straight-faced performances with little histrionics in roles that are little more than stereotypes.

While visually impressive, and at times breath-taking in the scale of its sets and the use of Australian landscapes to give the film a distinct style, “… Rainfall” turns out to be an ordinary flick in its story-telling with an ensemble cast not given very much to do. At least the film has plenty of breezy energy and gusto, and barely bogs down for very long.

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