First Contact (2023) Review
First Contact, the latest film from writer/director Bruce Wemple, sees him mixing the monster movie themes that he’s used in films like Dawn of the Beast with the time travel and sci-fi concepts from Lake Artifact and The Tomorrow Job with a hint of Lovecraftian cosmic terror. Add in some musings about family and the result is an entertaining if somewhat muddled, film.
Dr. Ian Bradach (Paul Kandarian, Condor’s Nest, Apple Cinema) is a scientist working on something that seems incredibly important, finds his work interrupted by the arrival of a creature who we can’t really see, but we can tell is very hostile. It all ends with a column of bright white light exploding skyward.
From there we join Casey (Anna Shields, Devil’s Triangle, Creeping Crawling) as she arrives at her father’s house. Her estranged brother Dan (James Liddell, Two Ways to Go West, Liza Liza: Skies Are Grey) is already there and passed out. A newspaper on the table bears headlines about an unidentified object approaching Earth and a missing man we recognize from the opening scenes. That man is, of course, their father.
While the siblings are catching up with each other, an inebriated couple Kevin (Chris Cimperman, Mermaid Parade, The Retreat) and Jamie (Caitlin Duffy, My Best Friend’s Dead, Good Trouble) encounter something strange on their drive home. Kevin wakes up the next morning with what he thinks is a killer hangover. He’s half right.
In telling First Contact’s story, Wemple mixes straightforward monster movie thrills with scientific concepts about the beginning and end of human civilization as well as that of the universe itself. He also works in entities that “stored their conscience beyond time and space” many millions of years ago including one referred to as The End which seems to be a Death God of some kind.
The problem is, this all gets very confusing very quickly even though we not only see what is happening with the two sets of lead characters but get fed information from TV newscasts and videos recorded by Dr.Bradach. Even after an expository conversation with Dr. Mason (Michael L. Parker, Burn My Money, The Host), one of his former colleagues, a lot of the details are sketchy at best.
Thankfully, you can safely ignore a lot of those details and simply concentrate on Kevin’s transformation into an alien creature and Dan and Casey’s struggle to quit fighting and finish their father’s project which was meant to prevent war between Earth and the spaceship heading towards us thus thwarting The End’s plans to destroy both civilizations. because it’s on that level that First Contact actually works best.
Lost in all of this is the subplot about the siblings’ estrangement from their father as well as each other and Dan’s struggle not to have the same thing happen between him and his son. One of the many details left out is if the distance between them is the work of Dan’s ex, or if the incident that ended their marriage directly caused it. What is meant to be a strong emotional element ends up being reduced to a few attempts at making a phone call and messages sent to voicemail.
Like most of Wemple’s films, the effects in First Contact are practical whenever possible. Kevin’s transformation is done in an effective if fairly simple manner. Stage by stage he goes from looking like a progressively more decayed zombie to a bizarre humanoid alien. And I’ll take that over a more imaginative looking but obviously digital creature any day. Most of the effects involving strange lights look like old-school effects as well, although a couple of the more complex ones appeared to be CGI.
While they might have been introduced with an eye towards a sequel, First Contact’s attempts at creating its own lore really don’t pan out here. Fortunately, there’s enough going on and followed through with to allow it to work as a low-budget sci-fi/horror film. And since that’s what most people who watch it will be looking for, I suppose that’s what matters.