Occupation: Rainfall is the sequel to the 2018 independent Australian sci-fi action film Occupation, following a small group of misfits that form a resistance army after their small town is enslaved by invading aliens. Surprisingly for a film that gained a sequel, the original made barely any money at the box office or through international sales. However, it was then picked up by Netflix and became a surprise hit on the streaming service, sort of like a cult hit for modern times, and director/writer Luke Sparke was clearly able to turn this popularity into funding for a sequel, now with a $19 million budget, compared to the original $6m. This bigger budget (although still small compared to most sci-fi blockbusters) is evident in the expansive CGI set pieces that display outer space and this post-apocalyptic Australia in scenes that are impressive and exciting.
The film starts with a voice-over narration explaining loosely what happened in the previous film and how they’ve got to where they are (which was easily done in a couple of minutes) while the screen is filled with CGI visuals of space and spaceships, opening strongly with some of the best visuals in the film. We are then thrown right into scenes of action with people fighting aliens from planes and from the ground, and it’s quite hard to tell what’s going on with the quiet moments of dialogue in between telling us nothing and leading us nowhere. We are dropped right into the spectacle of what the film can do with a bigger budget. After ten minutes of non-stop action, we’re finally fully introduced to some interesting characters who are striding through ruinous and poverty-stricken Sydney. We meet Amelia (Jet Tranter) while people shout “grey lover” at her, in reference to her work bringing the humans together with the greys (aliens who defected to the human side), and we also meet Abraham (David Roberts), who is lamenting about how much he misses chocolate macadamias. They then meet with a group of greys that tell her about “Rainfall”, an alien superweapon that could potentially end the war.
As they get to the resistance headquarters, we join and properly meet the characters we saw fighting in the opening sequence including Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing), our deeply unlikeable hero, and antagonist Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies) who puts victory before human (and alien) lives. They both, like most characters other than Amelia and Abraham, have a deep hatred of greys. After reunions between characters, the group assemble for a strategy meeting and it becomes clear they’re fighting a losing battle and an argument ensues about whether they should evacuate as soon as possible at whatever cost or stay and save civilians. Amelia mentions “Rainfall” and Matt and alien Gary (Lawrence Makoare) volunteer to go on a “suicide mission” to the American base where it is located.
The film manages to feel properly intimate in scenes at the resistance headquarters and just like the first film, it is strongest when portraying arguments between lost and disparate people. Sparke is good at knowing just when to focus on the personal and when to expand out to the beautiful and impressive CGI landscapes. These intimate moments are also contrasted to the constant action sequences that easily start to feel slightly mindless and plotless, towards the end becoming completely overblown and incomprehensible with the film relying heavily on them. This means that the film, aided by the fairly generic plot and weak dialogue, gets boring very quickly. The script does have some supposed respite moments of humour and halfway through we are introduced to an American government worker played by Ken Jeong, who plays it brilliantly but is basically an amalgamation of all the roles he’s become known for in Hollywood, and an American alien called Steve with the voice of Jason Isaacs clearly added in post-production. Their comic relief scenes produce no laugh-out-loud moments and instead feel rather disjointed with the melodrama of the scenes they are sandwiched between. These other moments are overscored to the point of distraction and overacted by independent film actors that feel slightly out of their depth, not helped by the dialogue given to them.
The film deals with, or attempts to deal with, issues of racism and discrimination in the way that many sci-fis do, by showing the treatment of aliens as frail metaphors for our own world, yet here it feels lazy and unoriginal.
The cyclical ending sets up for yet another chapter in the Occupation series and while there is no doubt there’s more plot to explore, with humans fighting off alien colonisation there could be many avenues to go down. However, it seems inevitable that a third instalment would follow the same pattern, themes, moral dilemmas and character arcs and would be a much similar two-hour slog.
Signature Entertainment presents Occupation Rainfall in Cinemas and on Digital from 9 July
by Madeleine Sinclair
Madeleine (she/her) is a film student at the University of Winchester currently working on a dissertation on women killers in giallo films. She’s a big horror fan (the tackier the better) and also loves sci-fi and fantasy. Right now, she thinks her favourite films are Pan’s Labyrinth, The Wicker Man and Deep Red but she is also very indecisive. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madeleinia and Letterboxd here