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D: Neill Blomkamp / 22m

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Eugene Khumbanyiwa, Robert Hobbs, Carly Pope, Brandon Auret

In the future, aliens have invaded Earth and set about destroying our world and making it into a facsimile of their own, with giant engines spewing methane into our atmosphere and humans being used as de facto incubators for the aliens themselves. The human resistance is sporadic but determined to fight back with whatever resources it can muster. In Texas in 2020, a small group of resistance fighters led by Jasper (Weaver), hatch a plan that involves the use of helmets called brain barriers that reduce the influence the aliens can have over humans. Enlisting the aid of a bombmaker called Nosh (Auret), Jasper hopes to use the brain barriers and an item made by Nosh to take the fight to the aliens and maybe turn the tide against them.

While Jasper and a handful of her team carry out their mission, a man called Amir (Khumbanyiwa) is tended to by a woman called Sarah. Amir has been rescued from the aliens, but he’s been operated on and his skull is a bio-mechanical fusing of human and alien materials. His condition appears to offer a view into the future, and Sarah attempts to get Amir to tell her what he can see, but though he has visions relating to Jasper’s mission, he’s unable to tell her the outcome he’s privy to.

With District 9 (2009), Neill Blomkamp’s career, previously consisting of shorts, got an impressive boost, and his future as a director seemed assured. But Elysium (2013) and Chappie (2015) didn’t fare so well with audiences and critics alike, and Blomkamp’s long-gestating Alien project found itself cancelled when Ridley Scott decided to reboot the original franchise. Faced with setback after setback and unable to get any projects green-lit with the studios, Blomkamp decided to take matters into his own hands and create his own production company, Oats Studios. With a remit that involves producing a number of short movies that are hoped will go viral and be successful enough to raise enough money for full-length movies to be made, Oats Studios is a brave step for the director, but perhaps a necessary one. By starting out small – returning to his own beginnings perhaps – Blomkamp will be able to retain overall control of any productions made under the Oats Studios banner. And if his distinct visual and narrative style is allowed to flourish under these conditions then it’s possible that he could be responsible for other moviemakers following suit and making their own movies without having to go cap in hand to the major studios.

But as a calling card for his new production company, Rakka isn’t necessarily the best choice to entice further viewers or converts to Blomkamp’s cause. Shot both formally and experimentally – which gives the movie a slightly schizophrenic feel – Rakka is yet another dystopian slice of science fiction that riffs on both District 9 and Chappie through its gritty, effects-heavy visual style and deliberately disjointed editing. Making the most of an obviously low budget, Blomkamp pays close attention to creating a familiar mise en scene for his story to unfold in front of, but forgets to provide as much detail for the characters or the overall storyline. This leads to some scenes appearing out of sync with others, as if the limitations of the budget meant that Blomkamp had to make too many concessions in order to meet the requirements of the running time, and the script suffered as a result. It’s clear that this is a taster for a longer movie, and if it’s ever made it would, hopefully, delve more into the workings of our invaded world, and provide audiences with a clearer picture of what’s happening. But Blomkamp has taken a risk by leaving so much unanswered, and by hoping that he’s done enough to encourage enough interest to get a full-length version made in the future. Too often it’s the substance that suffers in a short movie, and while Rakka is a visually enthralling experience, the alien invasion storyline isn’t as immediately compelling as it could have been.

Rating: 5/10 – though Blomkamp should be applauded for taking his moviemaking career into his own hands, Rakka sees the director revisiting past glories to a much lesser effect; hopefully, other Oats Studios releases will veer away from the recurrent themes and imagery of Blomkamp’s movies so far, and if they’re to be successful, concentrate instead on creating much more original content.

There’s no official trailer for Rakka, but the movie can be seen here:

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