Movie Review: Place your bets, “Kids vs. Aliens”

“Kids vs. Aliens” is a low-budget horror comedy with big “Goonies” energy, a “Psycho Goreman” riff on kids who love horror movies who find themselves living through one.

It’s the latest from Canadian Jason Eisener, who directed “Hobo with a Shotgun,” which shares some of this film’s virtues — killer title, goofy violence, no-budget minimalism, uninhibited profanity — and its shortcomings. It’s brisk, cheesy and brief to the point where it feels incomplete.

“Yeah, and?”

Dominic Mariche, Ben Tector and Asher Grayson play wrestling, horror and sci-fi obsessed middle schoolers who make DIY movies that feed those passions with improvised costumes, weapons and mayhem, tales that often climax in the wrestling ring rich kid and middle school Spielberg Gary (Mariche) had his parents buy for them, parked in their big, semi-abandoned barn “clubhouse” and soundstage.

Miles (Tector) is the ginger-haired would-be tough guy in their trio. Younger Jack (Grayson) is their tech and effects — think “fireworks” — expert.

But they couldn’t do jack without Gary’s older sister Sam (Phoebe Rex), a 15 year-old wrestling fan who has mastered the moves and insists she “kicks ass” with a sword, among other weapons.

Their riotous production schedule gets interrupted when high school punk Billy (Calum MacDonald) and his two running mates (Emma Vickers, Isiah Fortune) crash their latest shoot.

Billy’s a bully, but Sam is smitten. It doesn’t take much manipulation for Billy to all but end her play days with the younger kids, agree to host a rave, and consider the option of underage sex with the first creep of the opposite sex to pay attention to her.

Gary and Sam’s parents only ever drop in between “business” trips, leaving their teen in charge. As they tell her, expressly, “no having anyone over,” what could possibly go wrong?

But the opening scene is a fishing boat offshore visited by a blinding light from the sky that plunged into the sea. The crew was body-snatched, one by one. And that light inspired government men in haz-mat suits to start poking around.

Guess which party the blinding “light” and the “Signs” Slendermen we glimpse in the background of this shot or that one, which party they decide to crash?

The kids are all hilariously foul-mouthed, impulsive and focused on their own childish needs of the moment. Bratty Gary loses it over losing his star-sister to the “pervert” who’s just stormed into their lives.

We’re just kids being kids,” Miles says to comfort him. “We’re ALLOWED to be compete pieces of s–t sometimes.”

Their impulse reaction to that first glimpse of light is to heedlessly dash off to check it out.

–“Don’t go NEAR it!”

“Why?”

Eisener doesn’t get much of a jolt out of the shadowy, unfocused alien shapes that we see lurking behind this scene or that one.

And the attack of the aliens is amusingly mild compared to the utter mayhem of the rave that Billy throws at Sam and Gary’s house. “Tear it all down” is his motto.

Thank heavens the creatures with the long fingers show up and kidnap the worst of them, but also Gary and his pals. Sam needs to girl-up and gear-up and go get them, because she’s responsible for them, the little s–ts.

The viewer is keenly aware, first scene to last, just what Eisener is showing us and just how little it cost to do it. “Lights” as an effect is his byword. No-name cast, a couple of actual sets, a lot more rented locations (a real boat, barn, house). That always puts more extravagant productions to shame.

But Eisener runs up against the wall of shocks that stop being shocking and torrents of tiny tyke profanity that become repetitive and stop being funny. This isn’t “Attack the Block,” not by a ways.

His best scenes could have been his guide, the early moments of no-rules/no-holds-barred/imaginations run wild no-budget kiddie filmmaking. It’s when he tries to tie “Kids vs. Aliens” down with that three act structure that the picture becomes ordinary and, I have to say, unsatisfying.

Rating: unrated, graphic violence, profanity, sexual situations

Cast: Dominic Mariche, Phoebe Rex, Calum MacDonald, Asher Grayson, Isiah Fortune, Emma Vickers and Ben Tector

Credits: Directed by Jason Eisener, John Davies and Jason Eisener. An RLJE/Shudder release.

Running time: 1:15

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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