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Alien Invasion (2020) Review

When one thinks of Lovecraftian films, China isn’t a country that comes to mind, Alien Invasion (Yi shou jue xing, 异兽觉醒) is the first film I’ve encountered where they’ve traded the more usual giant reptiles or actual dinosaurs for the crawling chaos from other dimensions.

An experiment goes wrong, bringing what looks like a claymation version of The Blob through a gateway into our world. The creature begins either absorbing or impaling the research facility’s staff with its tentacles before trapping the head scientist as he tries to escape.

Elsewhere, private detective Xu Siwei (Zheng Xitong) has just tracked down diamond thief Li Luobing (Hui Siu-Hung, The Journey to The West: Demon’s Child, Naked Killer) and is looking forward to some relaxation. Instead, he finds Yang Lin (Wang Yi Qi) has let herself into his office and wants him to find her missing father Yang Dong (Jackson Liu, Police Story 4: First Strike, Zombie 108) who has been missing for fifteen years, and just sent her a photograph with a coded message on the back.

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Director Lin Yunxiang (The Dragon Lady, She’s From Another Planet) and writers Chen Yanhong and Liu Yuan know enough to get the film off to a fast start and Alien Invasion delivers it. Not just the usual six-minute preview’s worth either. Despite the somewhat rough effects the scenes of the creature engulfing some of its victims and skewering others are effective. And that gives way to a well choreographed fight between Xu and Li on a crowded train.

It doesn’t take long before the pair are in the skeleton filled remains of the facility we saw in Alien Invasion’s opening scenes and Xu Siwei is getting sucked through the portal we saw the creature emerge from. He makes it back, but in the following confusion, Yang Lin disappears. And that’s when things really get strange.

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At times I wondered if Alien Invasion had been made with an eye towards export to Western audiences. Apart from the influence of Lovecraft, there are things such as Xu driving a Volkswagon instead of the usual Chinese, or at least Asian, vehicle. And at one point while he’s driving it, Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” plays on the soundtrack. The only way I could have been more surprised is if they had used Siouxsie and the Banshees’ version.

Some of the visual cues seem aimed more toward that audience as well. Much of Alien Invasion takes place in a fog-enshrouded city that made me think of Silent Hill. And the final scenes certainly seem inspired by Fulci’s The Beyond.

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Regardless of who it’s aimed at, Alien Invasion is a wild ride. It mixes elements of Lovecraft, though not any of his actual works, with a detective and femme fatale out of a film noir. There are giant monsters and humanoid aliens that wield chainsaws when needed and a secret society keeping their presence on Earth hidden.

The effects depicting all of this are a bit of a mixed bag. The Gateway and the giant creatures apart from the Blob look acceptable for low-budget CGI. The humanoid aliens are fairly obviously costumes, however. On the whole, they’re still better than most Chinese creature features. And that sums Alien Invasion up as a whole as well. It’s a fun, fast-paced way to kill ninety minutes.

Alien Invasion is available on the iQIYI Digital Platform. And if you want more alien action, FilmTagger can make some suggestions for what to watch next.

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