INTRODUCTION

Back in 2009 film director J.J. Abrams was able to give audiences a successful Star Trek prequel. Two years later Abrams returns and this time he has teamed up with legendary director Steven Spielberg (although Spielberg is credited as just a producer, you will see why I mentioned it later on in my review). Will Abrams be able to make another great Science Fiction film?

PLOT

The year is 1979 in the made up town of Lilian, Ohio. Thirteen year old Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is trying to recover from his mother’s tragic death. Joe copes with this by teaming up with his friends to make a zombie film, which they plan on entering into the local film festival. One night while filming there movie at a nearby train station they witness a horrendous train crash. An unknown creature escapes from the wreck.

The next day the Air Force comes to town for it was there train that crashed. Residents of the local town fall victims to strange events. Motors begin missing from cars, local dogs run from the town, and people start to disappear.

Joe’s dad Jackson (Kyle Chandler), who is the local deputy, begins to investigate the situation. The more questions he asks the more trouble he gets into. Joe and his group of friends begin to investigate as to what is going on. The group of friends become the town detectives as they begin to dig deeper as to what is going on in there normally peaceful town.

STRENGTHS

Without question the strongest aspect to this film is the train crash. Abrams proves that he is able to capture the full effect of a crash. This ranges from the explosions, to human suffering, and to the panic that immediately would ensue following such a catastrophic event. Train crash scenes are difficult to film because of how big trains are and Abrams gives the audience enough close up shots and distant shots that allows for the audience to become consumed in the crash sequence.

The character named Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning, yes Dakota’s younger sister) gives the best all around performance in the film. Fanning also has the best genuine moment in the film where she is forced to confess to Joe details surrounding his mother’s death. The scene is handled well and Fanning displays that she can evoke emotion from the audience.

The final shot of the movie is also very touching. Although it does borrow heavily from E.T., the scene is tender and genuine. Fans of E.T. or anyone who enjoys moving endings will appreciate how Abrams manages to borrow some elements from E.T. but adds enough new elements that make for a satisfying payoff.

WEAKNESSES

This movie is quizzical to me for the way it was marketed. With so little known about this movie I really had no idea what to expect. That is where the film falters because it relies heavily on the audience not knowing what to expect so when the big reveal comes the audience feels underwhelmed. When the audience finally does get to see this creature it really feels like a letdown. Without spoiling too much the creature looks like a cross between Goro (from Mortal Kombat) and a reject creature from The Mist.

The main characters of the film are the kids and for the most part they show that they are competent actors and actresses. However, the material is not strong enough to give these kids an equal opportunity to carry the film. The adults are underwritten to the point of them falling into cookie cutter territory. I want to reiterate that the kids are fine, they are not bad. However, it is too much to expect kids to carry a two hour film for they do not have any support. This can only work if the writing or the story is up to the task. In the case of this film neither is.

I would not go as far to say that this movie rips off Spielberg films because it does add new elements to the material it is borrowing. However, the film turns into a Spielberg trivia question as well as a Science Fiction trivia question.  Movie buffs will easily be able to point out the references. Some obvious examples other than E.T. are The Goonies, and Aliens. It becomes clear to the audience that Abrams was influenced heavily by Spielberg so the film turns into a love letter. Some movie buffs might enjoy this aspect of the film. Some might not notice this so it will not matter to them.  For me though I found it crossed over into tedious territory.

The Science Fiction element to the film is also quite weak. Before the train wreck occurs the film is actually working better. The idea of a family especially a hardened father having to emotionally deal with the loss of his wife is intriguing. Joe being forced to cope with his father and his friends is also an element that works far better than the Science Fiction plot.

CONCLUSION/FINAL RATING

I did not mind this film; I did not hate it by any stretch of the imagination. However, this is one of the cases where although there are certain aspects that I enjoyed there are more aspects that I did not. In the end this film comes up short for me, my final rating 2.5/5.

P.S. stay during the credits for you will get to see the film the kids created and it is funny and entertaining.