2.5

The Australian film industry is one that produces some extremely fine films. The Castle, Rabbit Proof Fence, The Babadook, and more recently, Sweet Country. They’re all fine films. We make low-key dramas, comedies, the odd frontier western, and the occasional thriller. But when it comes to the action genre, Australia’s film is found lacking. American blockbusters escalatete the genre further each year. How many more bullets? How many more explosions? Can we go bigger and more bad ass? More, More, More. And more. Australia houses some of the best post-production facilities in the world. They have worked on massive American films – The Matrix, Tomb Raider (2018), Thor: Ragnarok, Prometheus, The Last Samurai, and Blood Diamond – the list goes on and on. So why, (with the exception of Mad Max), do Australian action films pale in comparison to American films? Is it the locations? – Definitely not; Australia is a beautiful and diverse place. Is it the quality of actors? No way; we have exported loads of talent, won many awards, and even home grown films have garnered international attention (Lion, The Great Gatsby). I think that the only issue that Australian cinema has with action films, is the desire or support is not there, which is a shame.

Enter Luke Sparke.

Luke has held various jobs in the film industry – from military advisor to props assistant, to screenwriter/director. In 2016 Luke released the film Red Billabong. It was not a great film, but it challenged almost everything I knew about Australian cinema. It had CGI, explosions and machine guns. The issue with the film was that it really was not paced that well – it went from comedy, to action, to horror and back again, never fully blending genres coherently. But it was a start. It was an attempt at something different – and it’s about bloody time.

In 2018, Luke released alien invasion film – Occupation – and is a mix of 2008 film Defiance and Tomorrow, When the War Began. Sparke wrote the questionable script and teamed up again with Red Billabong lead Dan Ewing. This was a mistake. Dan Ewing is no action hero. Ewing plays Matt, a rebel leader, and puts on the best Christian-Bale-Terminator-Salvation-Deep-Voice he can. His performance though is extremely ordinary, which is not entirely his fault given the badly written character he’s playing. In turn, this makes his line delivery absolutely cringe worthy.

Charles Terrier plays Jackson, an opposing rebel leader. Between Matt and Jackson, there is not one ounce of leadership ability. No qualities that would suggest anybody would follow them into battle and think ‘I will do what this guy says in a crisis’. Temuera Morrison is along for the ride as Peter, but he does not put in a lot of effort in this film – his character again, is poorly written and lacks any kind of leadership (not that his character actually wants to lead). The only two decent and likeable characters in the film are Vanessa, played by Rhiannon Fish and Amelia, played by Stephany Jacobson. These  two characters are the only ones that display any sort of quality, but they are sadly given a back seat to the male ‘heroes’ – that is, until the end when Amelia makes her way to the front lines. Here she is able to assist the military in their plans to “save the world” by taking on an alien commander (Bruce Spence).

Similar to Red Billabong, Occupation is all over the place. At the beginning, during the initial attack, the Air Force respond with only a few planes, then nothing. There’s no more military at all until the very end of the film. Then, when the military launches one final attack, the aliens find their ‘secret location’ and stage a counterattack. An officer says “they’ve found us” like it is a complete surprise – despite at over fifty helicopters taking off from the location! And please don’t ask me how the location was kept secret in the first place.

Some of the characters show common sense, but again, Sparke’s script is lacking in character development. One of the main issues is that Occupation tries to focus on far too many characters. A film like Oscar winner Crash, can afford to do this. It’s so perfectly written and the characters are all so perfectly linked that it works sublimely. Plus, it’s a drama, no hectic action sequences to take screen time away from character development. In Occupation, aside from Amelia and Vanessa, Sparke never gives us a reason to care for the characters, never allowing enough time to develop the characters outside of the action. However, the massive positive of the film was the set design and the costume design. The aliens looked great in their armour, their faces were a little stiff and unrealistic but still pretty good. The CGI was good, better than in Red Billabong and the cinematography was decent. Either way, it’s fantastic to see some Australian action films. Occupation is an A-grade attempt at an action sci-fi film, unfortunately only reaching a B-grade result. It must have been successful overseas though because (and oddly considering the ending of the first one) a sequel is in the works starring Community and The Hangover’s Ken Jeong. Much like an occupying Alien force, Luke Sparke is occupying the Australian film industry and looks set to stay. With some more experience and a better script, he could do great things. I strangely look forward to Occupation 2: Rainfall

Director: Luke Sparke
Cast: Dan Ewing, Temeura Morrison, Stephany Jacobson
Writer: Luke Sparke, (additional dialogue from) Felix Williamson

Pickup Occupation via Amazon here.