Alien Strain is a sharp, succinct and yet ultimately frustratingly-unsatisfying psychological thriller which initially presents itself as a fairly straightforward alien abduction fantasy before turning itself inside out into something entirely different. As such it’s a film which demands the audience to ask questions which it isn’t always able or willing to answer and it’s hard not to walk away feeling ambivalent about the whole thing, despite its commendable desire to stay one step ahead of its viewers and avoid becoming just another conspiracy theory thriller or, worse, a silly, showy alien abduction cheapie with laughable grey aliens lurking in the background.
Matthew’s girlfriend Rachel disappears at night on a camping trip. He sees a huge glowing UFO out in the desert. In the year since her disappearance he’s become a patient at Briarview Mental Institution where he recounts the troubling experience again and again with Dr Stewart. But strange new conflicting memories are triggered; was Rachel really abducted by extraterrestrials and if so did she return infected by some horrific alien virus which led to Matthew helping to release her from her misery? Or was her illness something else entirely, something Matthew has chosen to escape from under a veil of alien abduction paranoia? Alien Strain doesn’t really seem to know quite how to tell its story or, indeed, which story it’s actually trying to tell. The narrative veers off into several different directions but in doing so it just becomes even more confusing and fragmented, suggesting that the writers have created a story even they’re not entirely sure how to resolve.
Despite its schizophrenic structure Alien Strain is a commendably solid low-budget effort with some decent make-up FX, the odd gross-out moment, above-average performances and competent direction from relative newcomers Benavides Jnr and Palmer (although we could have done with the persistent dramatic background music being dialled down a bit). It’s an inoffensive effort which makes the mistake of asking the audience to do a bit too much work to try and get the dots to join although the ending itself may just about justify your investment in the movie. In the scheme of things, it’s not really much of a strain to suggest that this is really little more than a slightly raised temperature.
ALIEN STRAIN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ROBERT BENAVIDES JNR., ANDY PALMER / STARRING: MICHAEL PALMER, LAURA GARDEN, MICHAEL PHENICIE, ROLF SAXON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW