Alien Invasion [Zhēnqín yì shòu] (2020)

(aka Alien Awakening)

It’s a classic situation.

A mysterious young woman hired a private detective, Xu Siwei, to find her missing father, who just sent her a strange coded message.  He knows she isn’t telling him the whole truth, but decides to take her case anyway.

The message leads them to a mysterious laboratory where they find a gateway to…somewhere else.

…A classic Lovecraftian Cosmic horror story situation, that is.

Alien Invasion continues in this classic vein as he begins having strange visions and his investigations lead him to a creepy, rundown town whose residents share a horrible secret.

Lovecraftian horror is one of those things which have been done badly more often than it’s been done well.  Alien Invasion is definitely one of the better examples, giving us a complex mystery, strange and unsettling locations, and a few impressive (if digital) effects.  It may not be as good as Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, but then, not many films are.  It is a scary and surprisingly creepy effort which even has its share of icky monsters.

This is a very visual film, with a lot of moody lighting, fog, flocks of crows, creepy scenes and unhealthy places.

One of the best sequences involves a hand drawn diary created by the missing scientist, which is in an eerie block print inspired style and brought to life with very limited animation.

I’ll confess a certain disappointment that we only see two main types of giant alien creatures (although there are also several types of humanoid aliens).  They’re well done and decidedly nasty, but a few more types would have added a lot to the fun.

However, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe also had a very limited number of creature designs despite showing large numbers of monsters.  I suspect that this may reflect some fundamental limit of the Chinese filmmaking industry: developing a digital model of a creature is far harder than animating or rendering it (you can also find this design limitation in some SyFy movies).  They’ve made these films on an absurdly low budget by American standards — although (despite the occasional technical problem, like some sound synchronization glitches at the beginning of the film) they somehow give them a degree of polish you don’t find on similarly budgeted films from Hollywood.

However, I suspect the move towards Lovecraftian horror might save Chinese horror films.  The Chinese government does not allow any sort of supernatural explanation in films (other than those set in the legendary past) and the need to tack on some natural explanation crippled some of their films, as in Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, where what would appear to be magical elves have become aliens instead.

The film strives for — and mostly achieves — the sort of dread we expect from Cosmic horror.  I’m not sure the story always makes sense, but then, I’m not sure you really need that for Lovecraft.  The eerie visuals — like the peeling wallpaper in some of the visions — and the somber, if perhaps repetitive sound track, do the far more important job of setting the mood.

While Alien Invasion isn’t exactly perfect, it tells us a creepy, monster-laden, science fiction horror story and does so with considerable brio.

And we can always use a half-way decent Lovecraftian film.

Bleak ending and all.



And check out our new Feature (Updated June 11, 2020):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!



3 thoughts on “Alien Invasion [Zhēnqín yì shòu] (2020)

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