Kids VS Aliens is one of those movies that definitely lives up to its title. Directed and co-written by Jason Eisener, it revolves around budding pre-teen filmmaker Gary (Dominic Mariche). Gary spends his free time working on his films with his best friends Miles (Ben Tector) and Jack (Asher Grayson Percival), alongside his older sister Sam (Phoebe Rex). But Sam, being a teenage girl, soon draws the attention of local bully Billy (Calem McDonald).
Billy suggests that Sam throw a Halloween party at her parents’ house, further driving a wedge between her and Gary. But soon, trick and treating give way to terror as a wave of malevolent extraterrestrials attack. It falls to Sam to save Gary and his friends and stop an alien invasion. Eisener’s films often lean into the premise of their title (see Hobo With A Shotgun), and Kids VS Aliens is no different. This time, he’s drawing from his own life to craft the story.
During a Q&A session following the film, Eisener said it drew from his childhood. Like Gary, he made films in his youth and had a bond with his older sister. Both Mariche and Rex bring that bond to life, as Gary and Sam deal with the twin forces of aliens and puberty. They really feel like brother and sister, and their chemistry is a large part of what drives Kids VS Aliens. Case in point: a conversation late in the film shows that Gary grew close to Sam since their parents were always traveling and didn’t want to lose her to the popular kids. The fact that Eisener can deliver such a heartfelt moment among the chaos is applause-worthy.
The other standout of the cast is McDonald as Billy. He kept the audience on their toes during the screening. At first, he seems like your stereotypical teenage dirtbag. But then he shows his sensitive side when he talks to Sam! There are plenty of layers to the character that McDonald unfolds over the course of the film, and it’s a true testament to his skills. As for the rest of the cast, Tector has perhaps the funniest lines in the movie, including a bit about space that had me howling, and Percival is oddly endearing as Jack.
Given the general aesthetic and the sub-trope of “kids fighting otherworldly forces,” comparisons will no doubt be drawn between Kids VS Aliens and Stranger Things. However, unlike the Netflix phenomenon, Eisener and co-writer John Davies are willing to get grittier with the action. It doesn’t matter how old or what gender you are, these aliens will kill you. And they look absolutely horrific, with their pale skin and sunken black eyes providing a heaping helping of nightmare fuel. The visuals and music also provide some great gore, with heads being chopped in half and flesh melting. Smoke and shadows combine with neon party lights to form a foggy, tension-filled atmosphere. And the score from Andrew Gordon Macpherson features plenty of electronic notes as well as big, brassy horns to announce the arrival of the aliens’ spaceship.
Kids VS Aliens definitely lives up to its name, filtering the coming-of-age journey through a grindhouse aesthetic. Not only does it continue Fantastic Fest’s trend of films that put unique twists on the filmmakers’ childhood, but it also continues distributor Shudder’s trend of collecting horror films with unique visions. And I have a feeling this is going to be a new Halloween classic.
Kids VS Aliens had its world premiere as a part of Austin’s Fantastic Fest Film Festival 2022.
Kids VS Aliens
Kids VS Aliens definitely lives up to its name, filtering the coming-of-age journey through a grindhouse aesthetic…I have a feeling this is going to be a new Halloween classic.
Born and raised in Texas, Collier “CJ” Jennings was introduced to geekdom at an early age by his father, who showed him Ultraman and Star Trek: The Next Generation. On his thirteenth birthday, he received a copy of Giant Size X-Men #1 and dove head first into the realm of pop culture, never looking back. His hobbies include: writing screenplays and essays, watching movies and television, card games/RPG’s, and cooking. He currently resides in Seattle.