The Hobo With A Shotgun guy is back… and this time he’s terrorizing the children
Sometimes, it truly is about the simple pleasures.
Clocking in at a glorious and refreshingly brief 75 minutes, Kids Vs. Aliens offers nothing if not what it promises in the title. There are so many kids. And they’re so versus so many aliens!
But delivering on a premise like this is obviously going to require a few elements to pad out what began as a V/H/S 2 short film into a satisfying feature. And writer/director/editor Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun, Dark Side of the Ring) acquits himself admirably here. Buddies Gary (Dominic Mareche), Jack (Asher Grayson), and Miles (Ben Tector) are pre-teens obsessed with wrestling and making their own home movies; mostly at Gary’s house because his parents are loaded and live on the water and absolutely neglect their children. I mean, if you had a massive barn with a wrestling ring inside of it, I guess you’d play in it with your friends every day too. Gary’s older sister Sam spends a lot of time with the guys, but kind of like Josh Brolin’s Brandon in The Goonies, puberty has fully set in and Sam is wrestling with different kinds of things these days than Gary and his buddies, which is creating some tension. You’ve also got a roving cabal of bullying teens led by the deliciously nasty Billy (Calem MacDonald), who charms his way into Sam’s life only to use her to host a raging party at said giant, parent-less house on the water.
Then aliens attack.
This isn’t the kind of movie where the antagonists are nuanced, or have complex motives, or even really any characterization at all. They’re just scary aliens. And they want to drag you down into the water with their creepy-ass giant hands to their ship and liquify you. Eisener isn’t afraid to kill off some kids in this horror-adventure tale, and doesn’t skimp on the gore and goo. But Kids Vs. Aliens isn’t a cruel film at all. It’s ultimately got a pretty soft heart, even if the kids curse like sailors and might actually be brutally murdered by aliens on screen. Billy and his goons truly are nasty and cruel, but it’s in that cinematic way that allows for the audience to actively root for the on screen bullies to get what they deserve.
So there really is a core simplicity to Kids Vs. Aliens that probably limits it from achieving any kind of greatness. But within its simplistic premise lies a little movie that satisfies and scratches that Goonies/Attack The Block/E.T. itch without ever quite ascending to the levels of those films. But what Eisener honestly brings to Kids Vs. Aliens that works in the film’s favor the most is… himself, with his heart and his passions on his sleeve. I don’t know Eisener personally in any way, but it’s clear that the guy loves exploitation films and wrestling and harkening back to the things he loved as a child. His cinematic output tells us all of that, and his film is all the stronger for it. This isn’t Spielberg, but Kids Vs. Aliens isn’t some corporate product or “content” or inevitable chapter in some massive IP either. This is a fun, personal project that Eisener infuses with his own passions and sensibilities and it makes a difference. Sure, sometimes you find yourself thinking that these kids sound a little more like Eisener than “real” little kids might sound. But that’s a big part of the fun of watching.
And that heart Eisener brings, importantly, is borne out in the arcs of the characters. I’m not saying you’re going to get emotional or anything, but Sam’s coming of age storyline is engaging and actress Phoebe Rex is the real breakout star of this one. She’s vulnerable and kind and absolutely kicks ass (with a sword, no less). The younger kids are mostly funny and devilish and lead Gary does go on an emotional journey with his sister and parents, as well as with his friends. It’s just enough to keep you interested between bouts of alien mayhem, but it’s enough.
Kids Vs. Aliens won’t be the best film of Fantastic Fest 2022 and it doesn’t do anything like deconstructing or elevating its genre. But it’s my kind of Fantastic Fest movie, with a propulsive techno-inspired score, neon lights, and likeable kids fucking up some aliens. If it sounds like it’s your kind of movie too, it very likely is.
And I’m Out.