Review: The Blackout: Invasion Earth

More than anything else, “The Blackout: Invasion Earth” reminds me of the TV show “Lost.” If Damon Lindelof were Russian, this might be the sort of movie he would produce.

And that’s because “The Blackout: Invasion Earth” has a truly fascinating sci-fi premise as a beginning, and for a while it seems like it’s chugging along pretty effectively – there’s military action, strange occurrences, and eventually some aliens. But the more answers that are revealed, the less satisfying they become, and the more hamfisted, clumsy and needlessly nihilistic the writing becomes.

The first half of the movie is a fascinating setup, with almost limitless potential. A complete blackout suddenly strikes most of the Earth’s surface, except for a circular region in Eastern Europe (including Moscow). The rest of the planet, thereafter dubbed the Quarantine Zone? Dark, incommunicado, and effectively uninhabited. Where did everyone go? Why is all technology down outside the “circle of life”? Why did all the bears attack the Russian army? And what blasted a giant tunnel through several urban skyscrapers, seemingly from space?

So far, so good. Egor Baranov crafts a genuinely suspenseful, semi-apocalyptic atmosphere, while introducing a variety of characters who find themselves on the front lines of the Quarantine Zone – an embittered man who has found purpose in the crisis, a compassionate journalist, a soldier and the medical doctor he hooked up with, and a general who is just trying to figure out what to do.

But… then we start getting answers, and they aren’t very good.

It seems that a small number of people have developed psychic powers. We don’t see most of them – just one guy, who is seeing visions of strange people who tell him that he’s needed to save the world. Soon the humans learn that all this insanity and change is part of a chilling alien invasion that has already begun, and which threatens our species with extinction if they don’t find a way to stop it.

“The Blackout: Invasion Earth” is a perfect demonstration that, when you build up a mass of mysteries and fascinating possibilities, you have to really stick the landing. But the more answers this film produces, the less satisfying they become – and a lot of the cool moments, such as the blasted skyscrapers and the bear attack, really don’t make a lot of sense when you find out what’s really going on. It’s like the story was written around these cool little moments, rather than the cool moments being the product of a well-thought-out story. See above comparison to “Lost.”

And without revealing too much about the ending, it’s ultimately a bleak, rather nihilistic depiction of humanity in general. Only in the last two minutes does anything even remotely positive happen, and it feels slapped on. Not to mention abrupt – the movie simply thuds to a stop, all problems unresolved.

Admittedly some of the problems – the uneven pacing, the thin characterization, the thin romance that leads nowhere – might be because this was originally conceived as a television series. But being a series wouldn’t have helped the flimsiness of the alien invasion plan, which shows the need for a few more script revisions. Honestly, the entire movie would have been better off without the aliens claiming they built the pyramids and started all religion.

As for the actors, they’re… meh. Just meh. Most of them do serviceable but not very good jobs, although Ksenia Kutepova is almost painfully out of her league whenever she tries to act serious. The only really memorable performance is Artyom Tkachenko as “Id,” an alien who claims he’s here to help humanity – given the structure of the aliens’ faces, Tkachenko is reduced to mainly acting with his eyebrows and eyes, and he gives a pretty decent performance.

“The Blackout: Invasion Earth” began with such promise and such memorable concepts… and then fell flat on its face with poor answers and a cast of rather uninteresting characters. Give this one a miss.

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