Disaster unfolds when a meteor strikes a small town, turning the environment uninhabitable and killing everything in the surrounding area.
Been some time since a fair amount of intellectualism has been so at the center of a sci-fi chiller meant more to scare for box office dollars than provoke thought, contemplation and elevate the discussion of one’s own place in the universe. Aren’t such topics best left to lectures from scholars in college auditoriums or the book tour of the Pulitzer Prize winner in one of the few remaining brick and mortar bookstores left around?
It stands to reason that such threads are less likely to be delved into within the confines genre cinema. Just don’t tell that to director Eddie Arya, whose shocker Risen dares to buck the trend of non-thinking celluloid that is at its usual rampaging onslaught right about the very time of year it was released in August 2021. In a certain twist of sorts, Arya requires his audience to have an element within them of a willingness to study the human condition as we examine notions of evolution, our relationship with nature, indeed our role in the cosmos.
That this seemed to be billed as a terrifying ET creepshow seems to be completely at odds with the actual composition of this work. What chills that come from this rather existential thriller stem mostly from our reaction to the unknown. There is remarkably little in the way of scaly, slimy creatures or gut-busting gore here and viewers are all the better for it.
In Badger, New York a meteorite strikes and contaminates the air for miles around with a deadly toxicity. Homeland Security pulls in a lady astrobiologist to investigate. Meanwhile, a strange tree begins growing at the center of the disaster. Our heroine, Lauren, discovers that the meteorites are, in fact, seeds from an alien race that are slowly transforming the Earth for inhabitation by another race. Select human beings are also infected, their dna structure being altered into more of an alien/human hybrid. As events unfold, it becomes clear that some of the aliens have been on our world for quite a number of years and that Lauren may have a connection with extraterrestrials. Is this a mass extinction event or humanity’s next step along their destined path?
What impressed me most about this feature was the deliberate casual pace that Arya opts for in a day and age where it seems a story has to be more and more flash fed to the moviegoer as if ADHD is overwhelming the entire populace. Arya has his points to make and wants us to see them but at his speed. There are themes he touches on, from our dependence on the very life force of nature we quietly destroy daily to the simple question we contemplate daily of are we alone in the galaxy? That he tells his story through the very fractured viewing scope of a lead character, Lauren, who is in the throes of depression, tragedy and alcoholism and someone questioning her own place in the world and self worth gives us a unique view of events unfolding. Hers are not gazes of horror at what is going on but looks at what can be possible for her.
Cast-wise, Nicole Schalmo is a reserved delight as Lauren. She is an emotionally withdrawn shell of a person who discovers a way forward in the midst of the chaos around and where her true path lies. Characters that surround her are really shown as extensions of the human reaction to the unknown. Mostly they are either military types such as Colonel Emmerich representing the fight against factor, or the scientists who almost embrace the unknown as the next great adventure. I did appreciate Jack Campbell’s crusty Emmerich, almost in the style of the cigar chomping master sergeant R. Lee Ermey.
The script, also by the director, is replete with some of the most pungent dialogue heard in years, and some remarkably fleshed out characters uttering the word. Filming locations in Alberta, Canada, under the watchful lens of DP Susan Lumsden really imbue an ethereal feel to the proceedings and give it the necessary dream-like quality.
If your viewing choice for a rainy Saturday is of the simplistic, check your brain at the door variety, you may as well look elsewhere than here. If you want something that challenges and entertains all while being just a bit different, Risen may be just the ticket for you.