Horror films set in space are almost as old as the medium itself. The golden age of sci-fi gave the movie-going audience titles such as It! The Terror Beyond Space and The Angry Red Planet. Both those films received a warm critical response and did well at the box office. The former’s plot of an alien hunting the crew of a spaceship served as a direct inspiration for the first Alien film. Of course, that franchise is arguably the most iconic science fiction-horror hybrid in all of pop culture.
The modern movie era presented Screamers, Event Horizon, and Pitch Black to scare us. Oddly, what’s predominantly missing from this subgenre is a staple of Earthbound fright fests: kids! From enjoyable schlock to cult favorites to critical hits that win Oscars, children have been the focal point of many a genre aficionado’s most-watched horror films. That the two haven’t intertwined in any meaningful way is surprising. Yes, there is Newt from Aliens, but I’d argue that is more of an action flick. More importantly, she is not the main character. I am talking about titles like Monster In The Closet, The Hole, or The Watcher In The Woods; told more or less, from the vantage point of a child.
The two genres collide in Assassinaut, the latest from Dread and Epic Pictures. Sarah (Shannon Hutchinson) is overjoyed that she has been chosen as one of a small group of children visitors to the Presidential Space Station. The other kids receiving the honor are the rich, spoiled kid, Tom (Jonathan Newport), tech-savvy Brooke (Yael Haskal), and the morose Charlie (Jasmina Parent). The President of Earth (Irene Santiago) warmly greets each one by name once the group arrives on the space station. They have a pleasant but brief conversation.
“… someone on the space station attempts to shoot the President…”
Brief because someone on the space station attempts to shoot the President. She is non-fatally wounded, but the attacker is killed. His death sets off a bomb, so everyone abroad evacuates quickly. The closest planet is not Earth, so everyone lands on an alien world. Once out of the pod, the kids receive a transmission from the President. This proof of life sends them on a mission to save her.
Written and directed by Drew Bolduc, Assassinaut takes place in a thoroughly thought out, living world. The alien landscape and its hostile inhabitants are well visualized. Focusing on practical effects (though some CGI is present), the creature designs are fantastic and cool. The cinematography is also quite lovely, ably overcoming the occasional obviousness of the low budget. That brings me to the flaw in the movie.
The characters are mostly stereotypes. Of course, the rich kid is a huge jerk, who bought his way onto the team because it would look good on his transcripts. The kid who loves technology and computers is referred to as a nerd often. The film’s writing never overcomes the cliches so, despite the strong cast, there is not much to these characters. Once their baseline attributes are established, any viewer can guess what lessons the characters will learn. Is it a surprise that Tom becomes less of a bully as the movie progresses?
Happily, the movie’s strength lies in its brutal viscera and quick pacing. The action is exciting, and the atmosphere is intense. The ending especially proves thought-provoking and engaging, with a fun twist. The acting is also quite good.
“…takes place in a thoroughly thought out, living world. The alien landscape and its hostile inhabitants are well visualized.”
Shannon Hutchinson as the strong-willed Sarah owns the entirety of Assassinaut. For one, she is in almost every single scene, if not all of them. From talking with her dad about how much venturing into space means to her, to rally the troops after barely escaping with their lives, she makes each moment feel realistic.
Newport is so obnoxious that you will want to slap a kid across the face; thus, he is fantastic as Tom. Yael Haskal is the nerd, and she’s bright and fun, overcoming the limited character development. Jasmine Parent gets a few good one-liners and sells the alien world convincingly. As the President, Santiago is quite good. Her pleading with her staff to save the children, immediately after being shot, feels authentic.
Assassinaut does not quite hit the same marks as other Dread releases such as The Golem; however, it is much more engaging than Black Site. While the characters are stereotypes, the acting brings a lot to the table. Plus, the action is exciting, and the practical effects are amazing.
Assassinaut (2019) Directed by Drew Bolduc. Written by Drew Bolduc. Starring Shannon Hutchinson, Jasmina Parent, Jonathan Newport, Yael Haskal, Irene Santiago.
7.5 out of 10 Alien Invaders