Joseph’s Review: Assassinaut (2019; Boston Underground Film Festival)

★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

Alien invasion, slasher elements, creature feature fun: this dazzling low-budget winner has it all, with first-rate characterization and solid performances, to boot!

Directed by Drew Bolduc

The science fiction/horror shocker Assassinaut is the type of bold, brash, unique movie that can only be brought to life as an independent film. It’s a blast, and though its budget may have been low, it breathes with a joy and verve, and is certain to delight genre fare fans with its huge heart and daring reach.  

Sarah (Shannon Hutchinson) is one of four seemingly lucky teenagers chosen to go from Earth to the space station where the President of Earth (Irene Santiago) has been living since she ordered a nuclear strike 10 years earlier. Meant to wipe out invading extraterrestrial aliens, the strike also claimed the lives of many innocent civilians. Great unrest continues on Earth, as surviving aliens and humans who are alien sympathizers continue to make their presence known.

ATMOSfx! Woo!

Sarah and her teammates — quiet observer Charlie (Jasmina Parent), loudmouth rich boy Tom (Johnathan Newport),  and optimistic scientific whiz kid Brooke (Yael Haskal) — are generally less cynical about their feel-good publicity stunt mission than many of the adults surrounding them, especially by-the-numbers Commander (Vito Trigo), who is in charge of the quartet. He makes it known immediately that he feels they have no business being in space — and caustically predicts that they will all die there.

Naturally, all hell breaks loose on the space station, and on the planet where the children and a few other survivors find themselves stranded. By this point, viewers have already been treated to some fine mind-blowing practical and CGI effects, but business really begins to pick up as the teenage astronauts fight for survival. Things get ooey-gooier with gruesome effects and flying limbs, there’s a cat-and-mouse sequence that rivals some of the best forest chases in slasher films, and writer/director Drew Bolduc ratchets up the suspense even further with other genre film elements. It would be a crime to give away any more than I already have, but suffice it to say that Bolduc manages to weave between different styles of genre movie thrills without ever missing a beat.

Bolduc gets nice performances out of his cast members, with Hutchinson giving an outstanding turn as Sarah. When she looks scared, it is absolutely convincing, and she gets to show a wide range as a cool-headed, strong young lady who is proud to be part of the teenage astronaut group. Parent is also terrific as Charlie, and she and Hutchinson share some superb screen time together. The adult actors occasionally do a bit of scenery chewing, but it never takes away from the vibe of Assassinaut. Bolduc and his cast wisely play things straight throughout, so the film stays firmly grounded. Although there is occasional humor at play, the film steers clear of camp despite some outrageous moments, Some truly touching, emotional scenes are well-earned because of the richness of the characters, and the fine performances behind them.

The postapocalyptic Earth, the lo-fi Presidential Space Station with its industrial, lived-in look, and the Earth-like planet upon which the young astronauts find themselves are realistically conveyed despite the film’s lower budget. Many of the exterior shots are gorgeous, and the futuristic sequences come across well. Cinematographer Kunitaro Ohi does a splendid job capturing the sometimes bizarre, sometimes bloody, sometimes lump-in-the-throat-producing proceedings.

Though Assassinaut mashes together several types of genre films in its lean, 80ish-minutes running time, it avoids pastiche. It is fun throughout, and it should bring many smiles to cinephiles of all different stripes.

Assassinaut, from Ultra Fuschia Films, had its U.S. premiere at Boston Underground Film Festival on March 24. It is currently on the film festival rounds, and is a must-see when it plays near you, in my opinion. It has assured itself a spot on my list of the best horror films of 2019.

Review by Joseph Perry

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