(Note: For purposes in reporting we would like to note that Cosmic Book News EIC Matt McGloin was an extra in the movie )
Local Indie Means Pulp Horror
A Film Review of Ombis: Alien Invasion
By: Lawrence Napoli
It never ceases to amaze me how “no budget” independent films almost always involve some element of horror. As a genre, horror has a history of filmmaking rooted in rollback production costs, and thanks to the ever increasing quality of digital camcorders and off the shelf editing software, amateurs everywhere are feeling the itch to make movies. Horror appears to give the filmmaker the shortest route between making their dreams into reality, and there are a number of reasons why: 1) horror seems to inspire a lot of local, volunteer labor; 2) horror can succeed with even the simplest of practical effects made from household items and YouTube walkthroughs and 3) horror doesn’t require the highest acting level from its cast because the audience will be more interested in looking for monsters and gore. There are more fringe benefits to horror, but despite them all, very few films show capable of distinguishing themselves from the rest of the pack. This brings us to the Western New York success story of Ombis: Alien Invasion which is, in every sense, a horror film masquerading as sci-fi, but unfortunately does little to give the audience anything we haven’t already seen from the likes of Troma or Fangoria.
Your formal introduction to slime zombies from space.
Since this film was made for the miraculously low price of about $32,000 thanks to DefTone Pictures and its co-financiers, I am stunned that more attention was not given to the basic story, character development and dialogue that could have communicated both in a more compelling and practical manner. The script is the foundation of any film, and if the story isn’t interesting, its visual depiction doesn’t have much of a chance to make it better. It’s also the least expensive element of the filmmaking process to produce. Of course, local filmmakers do not have the resources of a James Cameron to make entirely new and fantastic worlds come to life on screen, but that doesn’t mean simpler stories, using common locations and local talent can’t also be interesting. Writers Janeen Avery, Terry Kimmel, Mark Mendola, Michael Sciabarassi, and Adam R. Steigert (also the director) attempt to blend the basic elements of a zombie movie with the more colorful garnishes of an alien invasion and apply them to a formulaic model as tried-and-true as horror itself: an unsuspecting town in Nowhere-sville, USA is confronted with a supernatural force and all hell breaks loose. This idea is entertaining enough in the sense that a ghost haunting a house, or a child being possessed, or a mad dog killer is on the loose are equally entertaining tropes. Doing something more with these archetypes such as using allegory or metaphor is an excellent way to transform common stories into uncommon experiences.
Who could that shadowy figure be?
Ombis features a script that is unconcerned with anything but the obvious so what you see is exactly what you get. In lieu of adding intrigue via context, the writers overcompensated by throwing in underdeveloped plot twists that aren’t set up well and fizzle when trying to pay off. A town trying to fend off alien zombies is one thing, but adding intergalactic bounty hunters, a shadowy governmental agency, and a tale of youthful redemption is plainly impossible to develop with any level of satisfaction in an 85 minute film. This script was in desperate need of some serious focus, and the best evidence of this is the fact that the story begins to unfold from the perspective of Sheriff Bracket, but then inexplicably shifts to former high school football star Mark. These two characters could have (and should have) been written as one which would have allowed the audience a more streamlined point of view in addition to better main character to identify with. In the end, the plot, characters and dialogue have resulted less from basic narrative structure and more from late night fanboy discussions of “you know what would be cool?”
Folks, I happen to be an authority on what's cool.
The true artistry of Ombis lies not within the fiction, but in the technical production value and cinematography that is spearheaded by director Adam R. Steigert. Far too often, student and indie films fall in love with static camera shots while mixing in the occasional Dutch angle to feign “art.” I am very impressed with how active the camera is throughout Ombis as it tracks, pans and tilts with the action consistently which animates the frame and keeps the pace up for the film in general. The background soundtrack adds another layer of credible production value which is well composed to accentuate the emotional tenor of just about every scene and only occasionally washes out the dialogue track as a small post-production faux pas. The digital/visual effects of this film aren’t exactly cutting edge, but are masterfully cut away to and juxtaposed with practical effects (such as the crawling green Jello) which yields a clear idea of the action and what the supernatural threat is all about.
Something bad is coming.
The performances throughout Ombis provide glimmers of brilliance, but are often overshadowed by amateurs in need of point-by-point direction just to keep up. As for the standouts, Richard Satterwhite’s performance as Sheriff Bracket is both charismatic and genuine and his particular strength lies in shifting facial expressions which makes a clear connection to the audience. The only hiccup he demonstrates is when he loses patience with another actor in scenes where they are not giving back the same energy he is sending them. Jason John Beebe provides the lion’s share of the stunt work as Mark and provides a worthy performance as the secondary protagonist (or is he the primary?). He plays the role of a younger man quite well, and he demonstrates confidence in his line delivery with just about everyone, but comes up a tad short in generating chemistry with his onscreen girlfriend which has less to do with an acting deficiency and more to do with a lack of opportunity as provided by the script. The final stand out performance was that of Alexander S. McBryde who plays the mysterious Mr. Gray. He is done somewhat of a disservice from the script due to the fact that his character and the organization he represents gets absolutely zero setup as they kind of show up out of nowhere once the weirdness starts to happen around town. McBryde presents the best example of an actor doing more with less because he doesn’t have many scenes to work with, but the presence he exudes, thanks to the bass in his voice, makes the audience pay attention to him whenever he’s onscreen and he leaves an unforgettable impression.
No one is safe from the Ombis.
Ombis: Alien Invasion is a success in that it was completed with an overall proficiency that not every independent film provides with minimal finances and a volunteer cast/crew. It is not an easy task to accomplish such a feat given the handicaps. That being said, the entertainment value of this film caters strictly to fans of cult, pulp horror films. For a movie like this to have a shot at wider, more diverse audiences, serious polish needs to be considered. Over ambition can muddle any production as global audiences may observe with future super productions such as the next Star Wars, The Avengers 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Too many characters, too many plot devices and too many gimmicks can add up to too many distractions that can sink a film before it even sets sail. Ombis seems intent on doing far too much without being disciplined enough to establish the basics of its own story, and that’s frustrating for an audience intent on making connections. Of course, most indie monster, slasher, alien and horror films just want to deliver a pulp experience that simply shocks and awes which is fine and dandy, but at the same time gets fenced in with the rest of the herd.