Alien parasitic plagues in a grocery store? Why that could never happen in America! Except for, you know, COVID and all that. You know what, suddenly this movie is feeling like it thinks we’re smarter than we are…
In a small town in the middle of nowhere, a team of heavily armed criminals arrive at a small grocery store just before closing time. They pull out guns, grab as many people as they can, and then have a drug addict nicknamed Spooky examine each person. When Spooky says someone is clean, they live. When Spooky says otherwise, the gang blows them away. Unfortunately for them, an off-duty cop calls in the robbery and then kills Spooky. This leads to a hostage situation where the criminals reveal they’re scientists, the grocery store is the epicenter of an alien invasion, and someone inside is carrying the parasitic alien king. So now you have a gang of heavily-armed scientists trying to figure out who the primary host is, the hostages inside who don’t understand just how bad everything is, and the cops outside ready to rush in and gun everyone down. Oh, and the lead negotiator happens to be the stepfather of one of the grocery employees. Yeah, it’s a situation that continuously goes from bad to worse.
If you’re thinking this has shades of The Thing, well, yes, that’s exactly what it’s been compared to. Alien Raiders released on a small budget in 2008, and considering its relatively tiny budget in comparison to studio pictures which get made for ten or twenty times more, the film managed to get near universal acclaim on the horror and scifi film festival circuit. Because, while yes, it’s obvious there was little money, and yes, some of that money went into special effects, and yes, the script probably could have used a bit of tightening up, it’s a film that has heart and feels honest. The actors are believable, the performances feel earned, and while it couldn’t show everything it wanted to show, I liked it.
It also helps that the folks involved were clever. For example, one of the actors playing a scientist was told his character would be documenting things on a little digital camera. That actor then asked for a working camera and filmed what he was seeing any time he was in a scene. This turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, and the editor took his footage and cut it into the final product, thus giving it a more real-world vibe that could emphasize the horrific moments and also show the characters’ vulnerability, fear, and lack of resources. While it adds a found footage element that might be off-putting for some viewers, it also cleverly extends run time and gave a new angle on how to view the situation.
Another thing well handled is that there isn’t a definite bad guy among the humans. Misunderstandings certainly abound, probably in part because characters don’t explain their actions, but then those actions are also things that border beyond believability, so why would they? If you’re holding folks hostage with a shotgun, are you going to say you have to keep them there to cut off their fingers to stop an alien parasite? Yeah, I wouldn’t either, though I might speed up the finger cutting. No, you end up rooting for all of the groups of humans, which makes the times when it all goes down the tubes that much more impactful.
Oh man, I can’t believe it took this long to get to the finger cutting! Yeah, it turns out that drug addicts who have been infected have a body chemistry too addled for the parasite to take control, but they can still access certain abilities, like detecting the presence of other parasites in victims. The only other way is to test whether the parasite attempts to regenerate the host body, to keep it alive until it’s no longer necessary. Guess whose getting their fingers cut off?! Of course the scientists do what they can to preserve the fingers and even reveal they’ve done this same thing to themselves, but it’s a disconcerting take on the blood test scene from The Thing. I mean, you’re locked in a room with a bunch of geared up folks with guns, and they want to chop off your pinky. Not exactly a pleasant experience. Now the one smart thing they do in this situation is to separate the person being tested, though corralling the hostages back in the same area after the check…probably should have been avoided. Hey, it was an evolving situation, bad decisions were made.
There are also a couple of oddities regarding what the alien parasites can do. For one thing, we never actually see how they infect humans, so there is no way for us to know what kind of exposure is dangerous. Since this is never explained in the film, I could never get a handle on what was really a safe way to proceed. While we do know the parasites have gender and require fertilization, none of this process is ever explained. Nor is it explained just how much control over the host the parasites have, so certain characters’ actions and statements could be them or could be the aliens; we don’t know. Also, we know freezing slowly kills the parasites, but one in particular somehow manages to resurrect and mutate a corpse, so why wouldn’t others do that? Why could one bring about an alien parasitic zombie superman while none of the others did?
Yeah, that dude becomes another stand of paranoia, as the scientists and hostages soon learn they have to work together to avoid this suddenly greater threat, but it’s a grocery store. It’s got big windows. How is it the cops outside can’t see in through the glass and watch this thing sprinting up and down the aisles and chucking people like they’re rag dolls? I guess they were really caught up in some of the ongoing deals they were seeing instead. The place did have good prices on produce…
Since I mentioned the found footage aspect, I think it’s worth noting that this was the feature film directorial debut for Ben Rock. Ben has a connection to one of the biggest found footage films ever released, The Blair Witch Project, which he was production designer on. Yes, he created the stick figure design for that movie. Yes, I know you’re pumped. Yes, I have a pin of that same stick figure sitting next to me right now that I’m looking at. And here he created another little picture that ended up being way better than it probably had any right to be. Nice job, Ben.
So, next time you feel like stalking the aisles, don’t forget that the person next to you may be host to an alien life form…or worse, they could just be an idiot.