The Blackout: Invasion Earth is a Russian action / sci-fi thriller set in the future where a mysterious alien attack has taken out the entire world – except for a circular area around Moscow that becomes known as the “Circle of Life”. The military survivors embark on a mission to try to discover what has plunged the rest of the planet into darkness by venturing beyond the “Circle of Life” to find answers. With aid from an alien who has lived among the Earthlings for thousands of years, the military leadership discover that time is rapidly running out if they are to defend the Earth from the superior alien force that is about to invade.
Originally released last year in its native Russia and sporting a trailer that oozed epic, futuristic, military action with an apocalyptic tone that set the bar to the likes of Independence Day or World World Z, I had high hopes for this foreign adventure. Despite the abundance of action and cool visual aesthetics, however, a poorly executed and nonsensical story coupled with mediocre acting made this a laughable and jumbled experience.
After a brief introduction scene with soldiers preparing themselves for an attack from an unknown enemy, the story jumps back in time before the world is sent into darkness. We are introduced to Oleg (Aleksey Chadov) and Alyona (Lukerya Ilyashenko) who have just met each other and are having a dinner date. These two are together when the world is changed by an unknown force and we get the feeling this couple are going to be the main heroes we will follow for this film. After all, Oleg is a soldier who quickly reports for duty now that the world is thrown into an apocalyptic scenario and Alyona is revealed to be a military medic doing her duty too. But that is not the case and this is the start of a disjointed storytelling experience.
Eventually we meet Oleg’s soldier friend, Yuriy Grubov (Pyotr Fyodorov), who is tasked with going beyond the “Circle of Life” to find out what is going on with the world beyond. Venturing into the thick of danger and the unknown while he creepily tries to hit on the embedded journalist, Olga (Svetlana Ivanova) means that surely this is now the main story arc and protagonist we are meant to follow. But wait – it is and it isn’t.
Oleg’s violent encounters beyond the “Circle of Life” don’t really contribute much in the grand scale of the story and it’s not long before you start to wonder why we’re even following him at all. But don’t worry, we are given another story arc that explains things: the interactions between the military leadership and the helpful alien known as Id (Artyom Tkachenko). Throw in some very unusual decisions made by the characters and it becomes apparent that it’s best to just enjoy the action and visual effects because the story isn’t something that is going to impress or be plausible.
Given the version I watched was dubbed in English, it’s hard to give a proper opinion on the acting overall. Generally speaking I’ve found that English overdubs on foreign films are fairly average to terrible and The Blackout is no different. If you ignore the mediocre English overdub, the acting seems on par with what you’d expect from a B-grade action movie with some effort thrown in to try to humanize these soldiers of the future.
Scenes such as the introduction to Yuriy where he is looking after his widowed mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease give us a little hope that there is going to be more than just two-dimensional future soldiers dealing with alien-controlled humans and shit blowing up in a sea of CGI special FX. Especially given the cringeworthy opening sex scene and blossoming “romance” between Oleg and Alyona.
But this hope of dramatic substance is quickly undone when the same character tries to find creepy and unnatural ways to impress Olga when they are in the thick of dangerous territory and he seems more focused with getting the wrong type of action at the most inappropriate times. Maybe this is considered romantic or appropriate where The Blackout directors Egor Branov (Sparta, Yolki poslednie) and Nathalia Hencker (her directorial debut for the English version of The Blackout) grew up. Perhaps something was lost in translation. I’m not sure. In any case, you’re not going to see any stand out performances with this movie.
While the directors may not have provided the goods with regard to giving us great performances from their actors, what does stand out are the strong visuals and post-apocalyptic atmosphere. In addition to extensive CGI, Egor Branov used real military equipment to create the world and characters of The Blackout. With mostly strong production value, this makes the movie interesting and enjoyable to watch from an aesthetic standpoint. With a better story, this could have been an awesome futuristic war movie because it felt like it could have been tangible like Blade Runner or Total Recall – until the characters talk or make a questionable decision.
The Blackout: Invasion Earth isn’t a great action sci-fi movie, but it does have some cool qualities about it. Unfortunately, the story and pacing detract from the fantastic sets and locations used to create this interesting foreign, future world. That said, this isn’t a typical Hollywood blockbuster and it doesn’t follow the usual action movie story expectations so some audiences may enjoy the different ways in how this non-American film approaches the topic of alien invaders. But for me, the lack of a clear central lead, a plot that makes no sense and an ending that’s just implausible given the circumstances make this a disappointing miss.