Sunday 27 August 2023

Apple TV's Invasion review

This show is the definition of the slow burn.

There’s a saying about the military: it’s 99% boredom and routine, and 1% sheer terror. 

Invasion gets the first part right. 

That statement is hyperbole (and framed the way a teacher I had would). Nevertheless, a maxim in modern Hollywood is that you have to get to the Promise of the Premise FAST. Streaming presents us with a bajillion shows to pick from, so if you don’t catch the audience quick, they’ll click. 

Admittedly I sometimes don’t bother with a show that doesn’t grab me until/unless someone (or several someones) recommends it. And if something doesn’t intrigue me, if I don’t feel trust in the show runners right away, I will click away. That’s far from fair, and all on my deteriorating attention span. 

In light of that, Invasion’s somnambulant pacing is defiantly radical. Movies today are faster paced and include more cuts than in the 1980s, partly because they had to splice physical film back then, and now it can be done digitally; Fury Road had ten times as many cuts as The Road Warrior, for example. It can be too much, yet here the more lackadaisical pacing just didn’t work for me.

It follows 4-5 different character journeys, switching between storylines that (mostly) intersect towards the end. Some are far more engaging than others. Sam Neil leads one stream (which got me to tune in), but it's a Sean Bean fake out.

There one minute, gone the next

It doesn’t help that the show is dark. It’s shot with naturalistic lighting, and the aliens (when they finally appear) are only seen at night or in dim interiors. This accentuates the menace of the unknown, but also frustrates. 

Maybe they did it because their FX budget couldn’t withstand daylight. Honestly, that’s fair, you have to work within the production limits you’ve got. The show looks very good, at least what you can see of it. 

With the exception of one character thread that follows a Japanese aerospace prodigy (all in Japanese with subtitles, which was frustrating because I wanted to also draw while watching), everything is viewed from a plebeian POV. We see people trying to manage their day to day lives in the midst of (somewhat vague) chaos. There is no rah-rah 'Ride of the F16’s'. This isn’t Tom Cruise or Will Smith type alien butt-kicking fare, it’s far more naturalistic, following ordinary people. It’s more brooding and moody than explosive and energetic, which can be wonderful when done right.

By far our most capable cast member

The leads are far from paragons of virtue; they’re warty and flawed. Great to have nuance. Unfortunately, they’re not likeable or compelling, and they make some painfully dumb decisions, all to amp up tension (admittedly very common in horror films). That came at the cost of empathy: I started rooting for the alien monsters. 

The climax smacks of both Independence Day and War of the Worlds, the grand daddy of all alien invasions. 

I suspect Invasion succeeds or fails based on whether or not you like the characters. It’s well produced and well acted. The dialogue is naturalistic and worked well enough for me that it wasn’t distracting. 

Unfortunately, while it has many of the elements I like, the slow pace and unlikeable characters made it a swing and a miss. 

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