Many film students, both here at SLCC and abroad were excited when they first saw the incredibly vague Super Bowl teaser trailer for this film. Who could blame them when it’s a film written and directed by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) and produced by Stephen Spielberg (E.T.), one of the legends of cinema? Seeing this film, it was obvious that Spielberg had his hand in this.
The basic story, without giving too much away, is set in the summer of 1979. While working on a short film, a group of friends become the witnesses of the derailment of a U.S. Air Force train. Shortly thereafter, there are strange occurrences that entangle their small town in a government cover-up. I know this may seem a tad confusing for the description, but this is a spoiler-heavy film.
The story in this film is paced very well and keeps you hooked all the way through. The focus of this film stays predominately on the group of friends who witness the crash and shows a very realistic reaction to an incident involving the extra-terrestrial; right in the middle of the Cold War no less. While all the adults are panicking, the kids that comprise the principal roles struggle in vain to continue their normal lives.
The strongest performances in this film come from the child actors who, at least in this reporter’s opinion, act surprisingly adult and yet very childish at the same time. Their performances even rival that of the adults in the movie, which is rare for child actors.
The atmosphere of this film deserves some mention as well. It shows how much work went into capturing the time period as well as removing the rose-colored glasses that films made in the 70s have placed on our perceptions of the era. If you took a scene from the movie, you wouldn’t be able to tell that it was set in the 70s, given the realistic, yet somehow timeless dialogue.
The attention to detail is shown most strongly with the actions of the military, the air of secrecy and ambiguity about their conduct. Adding to that is the anti-Soviet sentiments exhibited by some of the townspeople as they try to find the cause of the strange events.
The effects in this film evoke a very Cloverfield-esque form of suspense, with the cause of the disturbances kept hidden until the third act. You see things happen, but they don’t reveal the cause early on. Although a common horror film practice, it’s employed exceptionally well here.
The best way to summarize this film is to say that it’s a realistic take on the sci-fi films that came out during the 50s, which is both weird and not at the same time given the film’s setting. While most of those sci-fi films are now cannon fodder for shows like Mystery Science Theatre 3000, this film really ramps up the suspense factor, resulting in some legitimately creepy moments throughout.
Overall, this is a very entertaining film with a solid story, great pacing and high quality special effects. On my rating scale, I give this film a 4/5. This is a summer film well worth watching.