”Stop talking about production value, the Air Force is going to kill us!”
A group of friends who make their own movies are shooting a zombie flick after midnight at the local train station. Things go sideways when they witness a pickup truck drive down the train tracks straight towards an oncoming train. The result is a spectacular crash that echoes the one from ”The Greatest Show on Earth”. After accounting for everyone they begin to explore the crash site only to find the driver of the pickup still alive. He warns them to never speak of what they saw here or their lives may be in danger. Before they can ask any more questions the military arrives and the kids have to scatter. The film is grounded by the story of our protagonist, Josh, who has just lost his mother to an industrial accident and whose father is attempting to cope. Their family bonding is interrupted when the army moves into town. Soon after strange things start happening and go seemingly unnoticed by ever adult in sight. It's up to these inquisitive filmmakers to find out what's really going on.
Both Josh (Joel Courtney) and Alice (Elle Fanning) are fantastic. They bring emotional depth one normally doesn't expect in child actors. They form a special bond over having lost a mother and as such, create conflict between Josh and his best bud Charles. There's one scene where Elle especially shines. The movie itself is a mix of ”Stand By Me” meets” ET”. It’s a group of friends who have clearly known each other for a long time, forced into dangerous circumstances because the adults are unwilling or unable to do anything. Their interactions and dialogue provide a sense of familiarity and most are clearly defined and fleshed out. The writing is smart but feels true to the ages of these characters. As well, the humour helped to leaven some of the more serious scenes and kept the movie family friendly.
The train crash was as spectacular as I expected. While there was CGI involved if you compare it to ”The Greatest Show on Earth” this one is far superior. The one thing I didn't like was the quick cut editing. It makes it difficult not only to see what's going on but also makes the flow of the scene more erratic. If JJ. Abrams had just held a beat longer on the many shots for the crash I think the viewer would be even more wowed about how destructive it was.
I also liked the slow reveal of what was going on. Clearly something strange is going on and we discover the mystery right along with the kids. The viewer is treated as intelligent and I found myself making up all sorts of scenarios as to what happened and why. As we come to the conclusion of events the reveal of what was in the train is awesome!
If you didn't live through the 70s I think this movie gives a pretty accurate representation. From the gorgeous sets to the costumes, to the pop culture references to how long it takes to process film (3 days is a rush job!). I truly felt as if I were nestled in that decade and the danger felt real throughout the town. I think this was mostly due to the fact that this was made to be a family movie rather than a kids movie. As well, the adults were forced to acknowledge something was wrong rather than laughing off the situation as sometimes happens in kids movies. There were some predictable cliché moments such as what happens to Fanning’s and holding hands at the end.
If you're a fan of sci-fi films than definitely check this one out.