BUFF – Teen-led Sci-Fi Horror ‘Assassinaut’ Works Best When it’s at its Weirdest

These days it seems like interplanetary travel and living might not be so far away, and in Drew Bolduc’s sci-fi horror Assassinaut, it’s quickly becoming a reality. When aliens take over Washington, D.C and the President is assassinated, the Vice President takes command, sending the order to bomb the capital to annihilate the aliens and attempt to save human life.

Bolduc’s story picks up 10 years after the original president’s assassination. The USA has become a country divided, with some choosing to flee to more rural areas for safety and a small percentage of people deciding to sympathise with the aliens, covering themselves in blue paint as a sign of solidarity and committing atrocious terrorist acts on their behalf. Sarah (Shannon Hutchinson), her father and younger brother are members of the former, taking up residence in a spacious country house. Given that there are now aliens threatening earth’s existence, it’s no surprise that space programmes are particularly regular fare at this point, and teenage Sarah has been studying science her whole life to be one of the chosen ‘Ambassadors of Peace’ that will be sent up to space to the Presidential Space Station.

This alone is an encouraging premise, deciding to pick up during the aftermath of a world-altering event (quite insensitively here named ‘Nuclear Holocaust II’) rather than witness the carnage during it, places the 4 children chosen to be ‘Ambassadors of Peace’ in an intriguing position as characters; they are simply too young to remember a world before it. Placing some of this moral struggle and questioning surrounding Nuclear Holocaust II within these young characters would have ultimately given them more development and relatability that seems lost in favour of multiple ‘I just want to make my mom and dad proud’ moments scattered throughout the film’s course.

These emotional revelations come once the crew have crash landed on a lush green planet after having to make an emergency departure from the Presidential Space Station. With a new mission to save the new President (Irene Santiago) from a wreck somewhere on this new planet, the group are then pursued by alien foes. The film does well to make use of a presumably tight budget, utilising the almost-too-beautiful-to-be-real nature of the woodland environment used to film in. It feels sparse and hostile, with plenty of picturesque moments of the group traversing the grasslands in their Teletubbie-coloured space suits.  These visuals of quiet beauty and interspersed with some seriously outrageous special effects makeup- by far the films greatest success. Having largely worked within the special effects department during his career, Bolduc puts his skills to fantastic use here creating some brutally gory, skin melting, pulsating creature moments that wouldn’t go amiss in Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive: it’s just a shame there isn’t more of them. With quite little in the way of character development and a general lack of high stakes the inclusion of some more of these fun alien moments would have gone a long way. It becomes quite difficult to feel the threat of these creatures pursuing the teens when their presence in all their alien glory isn’t wholly felt.

Reading like part indie-drama about teens in space that would find its place amongst Sundance audiences and part a fun sci-fi splatter film, Assassinaut finds it difficult to maintain that balance, never fully committing to either style. Director Drew Bolduc seems comfortable in creating villainous monsters and that passion shines through, but sadly the weight of his huge story concept launched potentially engaging characters to a galaxy far away.

 

by Chloe Leeson

Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screen Queens. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her lifesource is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends way too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here

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