Right from the very start of Oats Studio’s Rakka you can tell this is not your usual low-budget horror film short. It wants you to believe it is. It wants you to believe so much that it is a rough around the edges sci-fi experiment, with its fake test screens and opening countdown, but it can’t hide the glossy sheen, amazing effects and A-list cast.
That’s not to say it isn’t good. Far from it. The story has a scope rarely seen in films four times its length as it successfully pays homage to a wide array of sci-fi films from Terminator to Aliens to District 9 via Predator. Plus there are some seriously good special effects on show during its 22 minute runtime.
The short opens with shots of a dystopian future Earth, ravaged by war between humanity and a strange lizard-like alien race. With humanity all but defeated, the remaining humans are forced into hiding or submit as hosts to the aliens strange nano-fluid and implants. A voice over conveniently explains how the alien race overthrew and enslaved humanity and how the last remaining men and women fight a guerilla war in a valiant effort to survive and win the Earth back. The added narration is a clever way for the story to fill in the blanks and add a back story that would otherwise have been lost.
These opening scenes contain some seriously impressive gore as we see men with their heads cut open so implants can be inserted into their skulls, people getting blown up in a shower of blood and flayed bodies hanging from the Eifel Tower. The gore serves the dual purpose of adding horror to the screen whilst showing to the viewer just how vicious the aliens really are. This theme of a nasty, unrelenting foe continues throughout the short as we later see men burned alive and used as surrogates for more of the aliens. Cute and cuddly ETs these are not.
The short then changes pace as the narrator takes a back seat and we are introduced to Nosh, a human bomb maker and pyromaniac, who is clearly insane. We meet him just as he is approached by Jasper (Sigourney Weaver) and her crew of freedom fighters who are looking for the “item”, a powerful weapon they wish to use against the aliens. Nosh is reluctant to comply and the resistance are understandably wary of the bat shit crazy bomb maker.
The short then cuts back to the resistance base and we are introduced to Amir, an implant covered human freed from the alien clutches by the heavily armed freedom force (seriously does Blomkamp have his own army). The alien experiments on Amir have blessed him with psychic powers that Jasper looks to exploit for the benefit of the resistance.
Whilst you could never accuse Rakka of being slow-paced, it is in this quieter second third of the film that the quality of acting shines through with Weaver in particular excelling in the tough female leader role with an ambiguous moral compass she has made her own many times before. Her lack of compassion under the threat of extinction is hammered home in another gloriously gory scene as she watches her people stripping humans of their alien implants.
Eventually the dialogue and slower pace of the mid-section gives way to a James Cameronesque Aliens gung-ho finale as the humans mount a desperate attack on the mind-controlling aliens. The special effects in this section are nothing short of stunning and the final “bring me her head” scene is a fitting conclusion to the film.
However, you can’t help but feel in this section more than any other that there should be more to the film. That we should have a final all out battle for Earth between the xenomorphs and humans as they slug it out with pulse rifles and acid blood across a large-scale battlefield. Joking aside, you can feel Blomkamp’s frustration at not being able to make Alien 5 oozing out of every scene. It’s such a shame that 20th Century Fox in their infinite wisdom elected against his vision for the franchise and that they once again sold short a series of films that could and should have been the highest priority for the studio. As a fan, and seeing what Neil and his team have managed to do here, you can’t help but feel bitter at the studios lack of faith.
However, having a shortened run time does work in some ways in Rakka’s favour as the obscurity of the story leaves viewers to fill in the blanks and think a little more about what they have just seen. It’s easy to draw parallels to current real world issues with scenes of suicide bombing, a brutal antagonist with no tolerance of others and a name that sounds incredibly similar to a real life Syrian battleground. But with so much going on and no real conclusion, the film feels in many ways like a pitch for a longer movie, not a contained story in itself. Having said that, if Blomkamp decided to turn this into a full length feature I would totally buy a ticket because what he does in just 22 minutes of screen time is nothing short of miraculous.
With a glossy sheen, excellent special effects and a nod to practically every science fiction action film of the past thirty years, Rakka transcends its short form to give a compelling story of alien invasion that feels like a pitch for a bigger, more fleshed out feature.
Gore: 4 out of 5
Some seriously grisly images on show here, from the bodies hung from the Eifel Tower to people blown up in a cloud of gore to men being burned alive.
Scare Factor: 2 out of 5
Not scary as such but has an impressive gore quota that those of a squeamish disposition may find uncomfortable to watch.
Nudity: 0 out of 5
22 minutes of freedom fighters, aliens and Sigourney Weaver, who has flashed the flesh only once in her entire career. As you can guess not much skin on show.
Overall: (out of 5)