Credit: RLJE Films
Before We Vanish by Ayeen Forootan Featured Film

Kids vs. Aliens — Jason Eisener

January 20, 2023

Immediately following its brief and overly familiar introduction, wherein an unrecognizable monster attacks a fishing boat from the deep, Jason Eisener’s Kids vs. Aliens ushers in a gang of kids frenziedly running amok and goofing around in high-pitched shouts and screams, swinging swords through the air and shooting toy guns while dressed up as space rangers and evil dinosaurs. Meanwhile, a hard rock score, a visual design reliant on saturated colors, and some crude handheld camerawork all attempt to spice up a chaotic quality that viewers can easily anticipate is going to remain for the rest of this wannabe grindhouse B-movie, one that tries too hard to flirt with nearly all the parodical campiness possible but without any clear vision or wit. Add to this the fact that it quickly becomes clear that what  we are watching in this scene is actually a film in the making, courtesy of said nerdy kids, and it becomes easy to regard Kids vs. Aliens within a specific, if slight, meta ambiance which blurs the line between coming-of-age realities and fantastical reveries. In fact, the young sci-fi geeks’ older friend Samantha (Phoebe Rex) is quickly taken in by the presence of a certain badass teenager named Billy (Calem MacDonald) and his crew (who recall the Suicide Squad freaks) in a manner that recalls Scream’s Billy Loomis, with Eisener’s core concept here being to portray the fears and fantasies of adolescence by relying on an excess of gore and glee, utilizing repetitive winks and nods to a handful of films from the realms of horror and science fiction.

It’s not a bad conception, but nothing here seems to be working in the way Eisner wishes it would. In truth, the movie’s too-brief runtime, punctuated by overtly hasty pacing, leaves the story undeveloped and characterizations raw to the point that viewers might simply feel as if they were abruptly thrown into the final act of another movie, or happened to briefly tune in to a particularly uninteresting late-’90s TV show. Honestly, it’s difficult even to find anything in Kids vs. Aliens, what with all its banal dialogues and amateurish performances, that even rises to the level of guilty pleasure amusement or batshit WTF movie-making — truly, even compared to something like the lackluster RLJE fellow Psycho Goreman, Eisner’s film feels like a passionless, going-nowhere effort. Even considering Kids vs. Aliens’ drab and aimless narrative and stylistic excesses — from its non-stop ambient electronic soundtrack, which strives to lend even the most minor moments a laughably eerie quality, to the acid lighting and maddening camera movements — perhaps the best way to describe the film’s character is as the recurring cornball nightmare of a flapdoodle, detailing the very worst Halloween house party fitted with a certain retro flair. At its best, this is a bloody, brutal gore/snooze-fest reminiscent of The Mickey Mouse Club schtick or ‘90s Nickelodeon programming, never once approaching the Spielbergian course that it seems to be setting its sights on. Yes, there are a couple of bike-riding sequences taking place in and around the film’s small town, replete with shrill children, etc, but that’s the extent of it. Ultimately, Kids vs. Aliens isn’t much more than a very lame ghost train where the VFX team is given limited opportunity to exhibit middling prowess of craft, right as the aliens deign to show their faces for the film’s final act of rampage. The Influences are evident, but there’s nothing beneath that.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 3.