Make First Contact (PANIC) with Passable Alien Horror
Title: First Contact
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Bruce Wemple
Writer: Bruce Wemple
Runtime: 89 Minutes
Starring: Anna Shields, James Liddlell, Chris Cimperman
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Panic Film Festival in 2023.
After years apart, siblings Casey (Anna Bradach) and Dan (James Liddell) reunite in their father’s home after his mysterious disappearance. Casey is strapped for cash after her grant funding ran out and Dan is on the edge of a rocky divorce due to his post-war PTSD. Neither can afford their own place despite their missing father’s home being the last place they would rather be. Soon, they both discover reasons to believe that something far stranger happened to him than the police report would indicate and begin combing through his research to see what he was working on before he vanished. The results could mean something terrible for both of them and humanity.
An alien invasion with a possession twist, First Contact doesn’t do much with its interesting ideas thanks to its listless script.
First Contact starts off with an interesting enough premise that doesn’t get the development it needs to make a strong enough impact. The idea of alien abduction has changed over time with many worthy additions to the cannon adding to the terror over the decades. First Contact brings forth the idea that aliens can take over a human host much like a demon does, which is admittedly an interesting idea even if it borrows heavily from several strains of previous invasion films. Yet, First Contact doesn’t do much with this idea. Instead, it uses this as a plot device to show the powers of the aliens and use it to track down Casey and Dan’s father, which is head scratching to say the least. All this power, and with plans to potentially take over the planet, and these aliens are using it to find a scientist they already attacked?
When a film doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, it’s necessary to bring some kind of draw for audiences. Unfortunately, First Contact doesn’t make itself stand out at all beyond the initial premise. The possession aspect of First Contact is deeply underutilized, only taking up a few choice scenes before disappearing from use in its finale. With some more time and care, this could have been a novel approach to the entire setup instead of the hide and seek schtick the siblings end up playing with the monster in their house and woods.
Silly characterization and unconvincing performances bog down the film’s promise even further. Beyond Casey and Dan, there isn’t much afforded to the easily dispatchable locals that unwittingly cross paths with the alien-demon creature. Much of the angst between Casey and Dan surrounds their differences in lifestyles and approach to grief. Their chemistry, however, feels off the entirety of the film. Both Anna Shields and James Liddell do their best, the connection is just not believable as siblings, estranged or otherwise. Instead, they interact like two strangers which make the lengths they go to in order to save each other feel forced.
From a production values standpoint, First Contact does an excellent job at making its indie feature look polished and presentable. Despite its grandiose ambitions, the special effects work in First Contact is grounded, opting for more practical approaches to creating the monsters that plague the small town. Sometimes it lands fully while other times it is more of a tough sell. Regardless, clever lighting tricks are used to disguise the entities before their reveal, and First Contact does a solid job delivering in this aspect.
First Contact is an average science fiction horror film that doesn’t do anything more or less than its premise promises. A mixture of interesting ideas and some cool designs fail to amount to much due to its stagnant script and unconvincing performances. Fans of aliens and B-movies will find much to appreciate in the low budget romp, but for most others First Contact will be more reminiscent of forgettable Syfy original movies of the 2000s than anything else. It’ll be making contact either way this June, so feel free to catch it on its first wave if it sounds like it will strike your fancy.
Overall Score? 5/10