Sunday, December 03, 2017

Alien Invasion: S.U.M.1

If you want to maintain military discipline during a near future dystopian alien invasion, maybe you shouldn’t name the dreaded buggers after a respected world music label. Frankly, calling them “The Nonesuch” is just an open invitation to disbelief. Stress and isolation will drive one sentry to do exactly that in Christian Pasquariello’s English language, Christian Alvart-produced Alien Invasion: S.U.M.1 (trailer here), which is now playing in Los Angeles.

S.U.M.1 never left the underground warrens where humanity has been forced to retreat, until he accepts a 100-day posting to the Cerberus watchtower along the defensive perimeter. Obviously, there are not a lot of proper names in this film, but the ones it has are loaded with symbolism. So far Summy knows the Maginot Line is holding, because his wrist sensor tells him so, but he doesn’t find that any more credible than we do.

Boredom quickly sets in when you’re only company is a white mouse S.U.M.1 names “Doc.” In addition to craziness, paranoia also sets in when the base commander dismisses his reports of a strange something hiding in the forest. A freak power outage really sets him on edge. HQ promises to dispatch a Mac to investigate, but you know how these IT guys act. They always show up late and then condescendingly assume you are just a moron with a loose cable connection.

S.U.M.1 is often visually striking, but Pasquariello the screenwriter does not do many favors for Pasquariello the director by making monotony and isolation so integral to his screenplay. He uses the passage of S.U.M.1’s hundred days as a narrative device, but viewers start to feel like they are living through each blessed day. However, he deftly uses the power of mystery and suggestion to keep the audience off-balance. Perhaps there really is a “wolf” in the woods or is he just plain nuts, or maybe both?

The Welsh Iwan Rheon looks sufficiently twitchy and Teutonic as S.U.M.1. We can definitely believe he is going crazy, or not. André Hennicke (who was so chilling in The Peculiar Abilities of Mr. Mahler, which is probably the best short film of the year) is spectacularly sleazy and utterly destabilizing as the Mac. Yet, you could argue production designer Thomas Stammer, art director Lasse Babilas, and their respective artisans are the real stars.

The Tower of Cerberus could very well evoke bad memories for many Germans, but it would be a mistake to force allegorical readings unto this film. It is really just a science fiction one-and-a-half-hander (because two-hander would overstate Hennicke’s screen time). Technically accomplished, but by no means shocking or essential, Alien Invasion: S.U.M.1 is now playing in Los Angeles, at the Arena Cinelounge.