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Assassinaut

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/13/19 19:43:19

"Kids feeling alienated."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 21: On a scale of "Turbo Kid" to "Prospect", Drew Bolduc's "Assassinaut" probably lands closer to the latter; in terms of the amount of youthful exuberance on display (or relative lack thereof). It's a bit of sci-fi horror that is not messing around any more just because most of its characters are kids, but that also helps it feel a bit more thrilling and enjoyably homemade than the same movie with gorwn-ups might have been.

The first of the kids the audience meets is Sarah (Shannon Hutchinson), about 15, selected for a trip to space to meet the President of Earth, though her former-astronaut father (Jeffrey Alan Solomon) has his eyes much closer to the ground these days. There are three others - Tom (Johnathan Newport), a pre-teen who is already a cynical-enough know-it-all to see this as a publicity stunt but one that will look good on his transcripts; Brooke (Yael Haskal) the most openly enthusiastic; and pretty but shy Charlie (Jasmina Parent). The initial meeting goes well, but soon the station is under attack, and the kids are sent down to an unknown planet in an escape pod, with a gruff, wounded officer (Vito Trigo) needing their help as much as they need his. Plus, it seems that the terrorists from the station are not their only concern.

Parts of the film display extremely impressive genre fundamentals, and not just in terms of quality gore. The attack on the station, for instance, is a nifty little piece of work, giving the kids plenty to do while also not putting them immediately and improbably at the center of the action. The folks around them are doing what they should be doing, and even if they're not long for the film, they're fleshed out enough to be interesting. Bolduc spends a little time setting the stage in interesting ways, giving the audience the feel if not the full layout of the space and including touches that make this sort of violence seem inevitable. When the people in power are trying to go for JFK's "we will go to the Moon" speech and it comes out unnerving, there are going to be uprisings.

Once the action reaches the planet, it's still executed fairly well, but not quite so focused. There's been an alien threat since the prologue, but even when it's immediate, it's vague, and the filmmakers sometimes have a bit of trouble switching between urgency, persistence, and downtime as the group hikes toward their destination. It's put together nicely - the color-coded spacesuits have a nice off-the-rack feel, and the crew does a nice job transforming terrestrial environments to another world, especially when they get into caves and when the aliens come out to play. There's never a sense that Bolduc is holding back, but he can still surprise when it's time for things to get ugly.

That's countered a bit by a very nice young cast. Shannon Hutchinson's Sarah is centered from the start, and she's well able to capture that this young woman is not the prototypically optimistic kid - Hutchinson handles the weight of Sarah being too often disappointed well - but she's also able to show that Sarah is not strictly smart and resourceful out of necessity; the wider world is, in fact, exciting. Her co-stars help make for an interesting group - Johnathan Newport never gets so obnoxious that one is rooting for Tom to die, Yael Haskal does a nice job grabbing the screen while Jasmina Parent moves slowly between fore and background as the two other girls Sarah's age. Vito Trigo does a good soldier having no time for nonsense with kids and a better guy fighting a monster that wants to take control.

I wish the filmmakers handled their twists better - it's got one toward the end which seems like it might have been interesting if there were more time left to do something with it, and that is not the only time Bolduc and the rest switch things up too quickly to get the most out of a reversal. The film still holds its own, even in the middle of a pretty nice stretch of independent science-fiction adventures with young heroes, and the teens who find it have a bigger treat in store than just more blood than they expected.

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