When I first watched Jason Eisener’s short horror film, Treevenge, I was blown away by the ferocious energy which the director brings to his work...
...If you’re a fan of that sort of adrenaline-pumping, taboo-shattering style of filmmaking, then I know you’re going to like his latest effort, Kids vs. Aliens.
Based on Eisener’s V/H/S/2 segment “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” and written by Eisener and John Davies (Hobo with a Shotgun), Kids vs. Aliens stars Phoebe Rex (what a name) as Sam, the geeky older sister of filmmaker wannabe, Gary (Dominic Mariche). The close siblings and Gary’s friends spend all of their time making movies together, until Sam suddenly decides she’s interested in bully Billy (Calem MacDonald) and is too old for kid stuff. Frustrated by his sister’s abandonment of him for boys, Gary and friends plan revenge during a rave party which Billy has convinced Sam to throw…a plan which is interrupted when the youths find their home invaded by aliens.
It feels like a joke on the audience with how calmly Eisener opens Kids vs. Aliens, because the film is anything but “calm”. We hear the sound of gentle waves over neon green credits (always a good sign), before abruptly being tossed into the panic of an alien attack with an aggressiveness that never lets up. And I do mean never. Following the attack, we’re introduced to our star siblings as well as Gary’s friends, Jack (Asher Grayson) and Miles (Ben Tector) in the middle of making a flick about space warriors battling sword-wielding dino people in a wrestling ring of death. All of it foreshadows just how absolutely bonkers Kids vs. Aliens becomes. Eisener’s high-octane style is on full display here, with frantic camera movement, running push-ins and editing that leaves the audience in a daze.
Complete with Andrew Gordon Macpherson’s thrashing synth score, this film has all of the energy of an in-your-face 90s action-figure commercial. It elicits a feeling akin to what I imagine it must be like to be a kid who has just downed a pound of pixie sticks and is set free in a toy store with a blank check. To say that Kids vs. Aliens is overwhelming might be an understatement. The insanity of it is damn near suffocating. Eisener hardly ever allows a moment for the audience to breathe. There’s almost no time for character development or plot (what little of it there is). All you can do is grab onto the tail of this thing and hold on for dear life as it barrels through scene after scene of pure lunacy. Of course, all of this spells out the one thing that matters most here, which is F-U-N.
At a brisk seventy-five minutes and running with a speed to match, you could argue Kids vs. Aliens moves a little too fast to allow the buildup of suspense or anything more than a surface-level investment in the characters. But the endearing performances (especially from Rex, who is a total badass) and a strong central theme do wonders to keep the story grounded in a relatable way. If you’re reading this you’re a horror geek like me, which means you’ve also been faced with others telling you to “grow out of” your interests which they deem childish. Kids vs Aliens explores that difficult period in a geek’s life through Sam. Her room is full of toys. Her wall is adorned with a poster of her favorite wrestler, a woman dressed like a knight named Valora. “I used to be into wrestling when I was a kid,” Billy not-so-subtly mocks as he works his way into Sam’s life. With aloof parents hardly ever in the picture, she is forced to take on more responsibility in looking after Gary. Growing up becomes a metaphor for losing the joy of life. Sam’s bright wardrobe is exchanged for darker clothing like the other teens wear. Billy’s group doesn’t know how to have fun without drinking, smoking, or picking on little kids. They’re the opposite of Gary and his creative friends who still find fun in everything. Playing out like a live-action cartoon in the vein of Masters of the Universe—highlighted by Victoria Dobson’s vibrant costume design--Kids vs. Aliens encapsulates the childhood wonder and glee we feel in the world around us.
Eisener’s film is gateway horror with an edge. It’s the kind of movie kids sneak into sleepovers unbeknownst to their disapproving parents. The film isn’t scary or all that suspenseful by any definition—it moves much too quickly to be effective in those departments—but it delivers on plenty of gross gore, enough F-bombs to shatter the swear jar, and kids going Conan the Barbarian on alien asses. Put another way, Kids vs. Aliens is The Goonies by way of Jason Eisener. By no means is it as safe as something like Paranorman, but it embodies the spirit of what it’s like to be a kid while throwing in everything horror kids (and adults) want to see in a movie. Even better? It’s set on Halloween!
Colorful. Crazy. And containing more slime than a Nickelodeon gameshow, Eisener presents something which horror-loving parents can expose their horror-loving kids to once they’re ready for films with a bloodier edge. The thrills are lacking. The acting/dialogue often feels forced. It’ll be much too exhausting for some. Regardless, Kids vs. Aliens is an entertaining, practical effects frenzy that’ll have you shouting “fuck space” by its wild conclusion.
Kids vs. Aliens comes to theaters, digital and VOD January 20th from RLJE Films.
By Matt Konopka