The unexpected arrival of alien visitors on planet Earth. It’s a perennial staple of cinematic sci-fi. Whether it’s the buttoned-down tension of The Day the Earth Stood Still, the full-blooded conflict of The War of the Worlds, or the wide-eyed wonder of The Abyss, it’s a premise that movie writers and directors return to time and again. Attraction is a big screen, big budget extraterrestrial invasion flick from respected Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk, whose impassioned 2013 war film Stalingrad attracted considerable international attention. Scripted by Andrey Zolotarev and Oleg Malovichko, Attraction is a bold and sophisticated tale in which the phenomenon of allure and of repulsion take centre stage in the relationship between humans and the planet’s latest visitors.
In modern-day Moscow, the city turns out in force to watch the spectacle of a meteor storm that should light up the sky as it hits the Earth’s atmosphere. When the approaching space rocks strike an unseen alien vessel, the craft is sent spinning out of orbit and hurtling towards the streets of Moscow. The opening set piece, showing the destructive, ruinous crash landing of the alien ship is brilliantly realised on screen, as the spinning vehicle slices through the tower blocks of the Chertanovo district trailing smoke and fire. Nothing else in the movie matches the visceral, heart-in-the-mouth quality of this premise-setting sequence, but the brilliance of the special effects, CGI work and sound design showcased in these early scenes is evident in the rendering of all of the movie’s recurring action scenes.
The crisis that the ship’s arrival trigger is seen through the eyes of headstrong student Yulya (a winning performance by Irina Starshenbaum), her bad-boy boyfriend Tyoma and his crew of reprobates, and Yulya’s military father Colonel Lebedev who is drafted in to run containment operations. Director Bondarchuk gets a huge sense of scale from the vast swathes of empty city streets, parks and intersections that he is able to use as impressive, real-world locations. The desaturated colour palette of the film stock, and the brutalist Soviet-era city architecture help to give an unromantic, tough-edged feel to proceedings.
As the authorities try to manage the alien incursion (with the Russian government demanding that other countries keep their distance), and Yulya and Tyoma break into the exclusion zone in the search for answers, the film runs through the recognisable beats of an adventure story. But in the third act, as Yulya and Tyoma react differently to the retrieval of an injured crewman, things break in two different directions: the burgeoning love story between Yulya and the visitor, and the efforts of the increasingly volatile and unhinged Tyoma to stir up popular hostility to the aliens now siphoning water supplies from Moscow rivers and reservoirs.
Bondarchuk is clearly aiming to conjure up an alien invasion story that is emotionally intelligent. He is keen to explore themes of belonging, family, love and compassion as well as the less palatable reactions that sometimes greet new arrivals: those of fear, intolerance and xenophobia. It’s always a tough ask to blend the epic and the intimate, and there are some abrupt switches of tone and focus as Attraction unfolds. Yet while the movie sometimes strains at the limits of its own internal credibility (especially as characters switch loyalties and romantic affinities with unconvincing speed), this remains a landmark entry in the modern Russian sci-fi film canon. Ignore the redubbed edition, and instead immerse yourself in the audio authenticity of the original Russian-language version (complete with English subtitles, of course). Attraction is a film bursting with a sense of creativity and confidence that could rival that of any Hollywood studio genre behemoth.
ATTRACTION / DIRECTOR: FEDOR BONDARCHUK / SCREENPLAY: ANDREY ZOLOTAREV, OLEG MALOVICHKO / CAST: IRINA STARSHENBAUM, ALEXANDER PETROV, RINAL MUKHAMETOV, OLEG MENSHIKOV / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 19TH