Review: A Little Bit Roddenberry, A Little Bit Cronenberg, and A Lot of Charm, ASSASSINAUT is a Solid Sci Fi Romp
From the surface, Assassinaut may look like it’s trying to cash in on the Stranger Things craze. A group of young kids facing off against a mostly unseen evil. This presumption would be wrong. While some of the bullet points may match up, Assassinaut dabbles in Atomic Age politics, sixties era science fiction and a healthy smattering of The Outer Limits storytelling to set itself apart from the pack.
Sarah has an astronaut father and only knows her mother in the context of a mental facility. She has been training in her father’s footsteps and is keyed up to be one of the first children to go into space. This is ten years after a series of nuclear devastations around Earth that are mostly shrouded in mystery but have something to do with an alien species infiltrating Earth. Alongside Charlie, Tom and Brooke, Sarah is launched to the Presidential Space Station to meet the president and be given a tour. Things quickly go awry when an alien supporting terrorist attempts to assassinate the president and the children are rocketed away to an unknown planet, where they are forced to fend for themselves and survive.
A lot of charm is put into the film and it allows it to transcend what it doesn’t have in budget. Leaning into the aesthetics of sixties style sci-fi, including brightly colored cosmonaut suits and utilizing nature as “alien landscape,” director and screenwriter Drew Bolduc knows exactly what audience he is looking for. It’s not just the general look of the film that feels like those classic science fiction shows either, it’s the general vibe. The loose connection to the atomic age, to Cold Era politics and to the Kennedy assassination are all prevalent and allow viewers to truly embrace a Roddenberry feel. It’s fun because while the first two acts of the movie are dominated by that classic era of minimal set design and choppy dialogue, the final act takes a full turn into body horror, with everything from blowing up bodies to a cave that seems to actually be the inside of an extraterrestrial being. Chris Brown and Bolduc handled the special effects and while they’re sparse, they’re integral, and when they show up it’s with bold declarative purpose and its squishy, gory goodness.
With only a few adult characters, the bulk of the film is carried by our four child leads, with the spotlight on Shannon Hutchinson as Sarah. While Yael Haskal does a great job as the overtly geeky Brooke and Johnathan Newport plays the obnoxious Tom perfectly, Hutchinson really does give us our James Tiberius Kirk of the bunch. She’s loud, brash and takes control of the situation, assuming leadership naturally, and hams it up when called for. Vito Trigo has a lot of fun as The Commander, a Mario doppelgänger who speaks in “tough man” adages with lines like “I survived a brutal space explosion and I made a promise to myself that if that ever happened, I’d take the day off” and “think a man like me goes through life not killing anyone?”
The only thing really holding Assassinaut back is some sluggish pacing, it takes a full forty minutes for anything with any real impact to really happen, and a plot that never really knows where it’s going. While it teases numerous angles, dangling plot threads are left hanging once the credits hit.
In spite of some shortcomings, Assassinaut captures a lot of those great “kids on bikes” films of the eighties. Aided by the synth heavy score Darius Holbert, it blends a lot of eras neatly and ultimately feels like if Space Camp was an Outer Limits episode directed by Cronenberg.
Assasinaut is now out on VOD and blu ray from Dread.