Australia doesn’t usually produce blockbuster-style genre fare, with industry and Government funding bodies looking instead to small-scale kitchen-sink dramas and comedies as “safer” options. So, this factor alone suggests applause is in order for Occupation: Rainfall, an ambitious Australian-made and Australia-set (!) sci-fi action sequel that mostly brings the goods – at least when it comes to big screen mayhem.
The follow-up picks up two years after the events of writer-director Luke Sparke’s first film, 2018’s Occupation, which followed a group of people in Australia as they dealt with a surprise alien invasion. This time, our heroes are well and truly in the war. Australian cities have been attacked, alien forces are proving their mettle, and the human body count is mounting. The actual narrative thread is quite thin, though, but suffice it to say that battles are had, speeches are made, badassery has the stage, and cheese is sprinkled across it all.
Seeing the first film would help in regards to knowing the ins and outs of the relationships between our characters, as Rainfall happily kicks off and doesn’t stop as though we’re already well acquainted with everyone. One can appreciate the gutsy approach of barely trying to play catch up for those unaware (the first film, compared to this one, was released with much less of a spotlight), but more careful establishment of what has happened, to whom, how, and why, would have helped drive investment early in these people.
Regardless, the majority of the audience attracted by the marketing and overall concept are likely hoping for one thing: Large-scale ‘humans vs. aliens’ warfare. And, for the most part, Rainfall delivers. There’s plenty of action going on, from Star Wars-inspired chase sequences, to Independence Day-inspired aerial dogfights; yes, the inspiration is often quite obvious, but that’s of no real detriment considering how the nods are handled. Knowing the lack of Aussie genre blockbusters we get of this calibre will help give audiences eyebrow-raising workouts as explosions galore, CG-infused landscape/building pulverising and nicely-crafted sets fill the screen. No question: On a production level, Rainfall is pretty damn impressive.
It’s the moments where the action slows down or stops that prove to be a little bumpy. Sparke’s screenplay is clearly aiming for broad appeal, but perhaps it’s going too broad, costing itself much-needed personality and gravitas when it comes to characterisation and development. The relationships, the banter, the posturing; sometimes it works and sometimes it really doesn’t – depending on who’s delivering the line.
The ensemble is made up of a mix of renowned screen performers and relative newcomers – and, unfortunately, you can tell. It’s a mixed bag. Canadian-born and New Zealand-raised actor Daniel Gillies, of The Originals fame, is the standout here, in this writer’s opinion. As badass Wing Commander Hayes, Gillies juices his scenes gleefully and proves a strong screen presence as the a-hole of the piece. We’re also following a large line-up of players, which certainly helps with the feel of a sprawling story, but once all’s said and done, it feels like half of these people didn’t mean all that much to the overall narrative.
Also, the attempts at humour, which is something that’s of course highly subjective, don’t quite gel with the overall proceedings. Ken Jeong livens up the mood ever-so slightly, but seems mighty out-of-place here. Speaking of international talent, Jason Isaacs is also here, as the voice of nice alien Steve. He’s good, as far as voice work goes, and kudos to the team for attracting him to the project.
So, yes, this likely too-critical writer had a number of issues with the Occupation: Rainfall, but it is, nevertheless, a bombastic and occasionally quite fun film. And hey, to reiterate: This is a blockbuster-style action sci-fi film from Australia, and I, for one, am grateful and hoping that it does well enough to provide confidence in more risk-taking in the industry. Horror, big action, grand sci-fi; Down Under should be crafting more films in these fields – we clearly have the talent at the ready.
‘Occupation: Rainfall’ is now in Australian cinemas.