Invasion

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Title: Invasion
Creators: Simon Kinberg and David Weil
Stars: Golshifteh Farahani, Shamier Anderson, Shioli Kutsuna

Rating

Apple TV’s new series, Invasion, is about, well, an alien invasion. It is one of the most used (some would say over-used) in science fiction. Ever since HG Wells first penned his science fiction classic The War of the Worlds in the 1890s, stories of ill-tempered extraterrestrials have captured the imagination of readers and movie-goers around the world.

Of course, it was after World War 2 that things got going. Rumors of an alien spacecraft crash landing in Roswell, New Mexico, sparked thousands of more UFO sightings and a whole mess of conspiracy theories about everything from secrets within the US government to scary communists and UFO cults. It is no wonder why this subgenre of science fiction is so popular. Indeed, the stories of aliens coming to Earth to destroy humanity are one of the most common plots in science fiction. Just look at the many adaptations of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Sadly, most of these are low-budget schlock-fests, but once in a while, something really special arrives. Is Apple TV’s new series Invasion one such, or will it be forgotten on the scrap heaps of bad alien invasion stories invading our screens and tablets each year?

Different Perspectives

Invasion follows people around the world as strange things start happening. Seemingly unconnected events hint to a larger pattern with rumors, sightings of weird anomalies, and disappearances. We meet the deeply religious sheriff in rural USA (played by Sam Neill), looking for meaning and purpose on his last day before retirement, after decades policing his small community. The rebellious communications technician (played by Shiori Kutsuna) in Japan’s space program, trying to hide her relationship with a female astronaut who is going into space. A US special forces operator (played by Shamier Anderson) is stranded in Afghanistan after being the sole survivor of a strange encounter out in the desert. The family wife (played by Golshifteh Farahani) must do everything to save her children, despite her cheating husband having other priorities. And we meet the epileptic kid Caspar (played by Billy Barratt) on a school trip in England that goes wrong.

Right, so if you’re now asking yourself how these story threads fit together, the answer is that they don’t, at least not at first. The lines of the stories gradually match up in a way, but Invasion is, more than anything, a set of stories about different people, in other places, all outsiders in their own ways. The result is that Invasion has a somewhat anthology feel to it. The perspectives shift between them as the strange events start around the world, and people realize a growing sense of oncoming catastrophe. These different viewpoints give the story as a whole a greater sense of realism than what we’re used to seeing in the alien invasion genre. However, I felt there could have been a bit more connections between the different storylines.

Sam Neill as Jim Bell Tyson in Invasion

The Slow Burn

From what I’ve read, the idea is that the events in Invasion are unfolding in real-time. I’m not sure if it is meant to be on the level of Kiefer Sutherland’s 24, but that could help explain the series’ slow-burn and long, drawn-out character moments. The series takes its time, which is a good thing. I didn’t get the sense of it being real-time from the start, and I wonder if I would have experienced the Invasion differently if I had.

The character moments also give the cast members more time to shine compared to the ensemble groups that are so common in stories like these. Billy Barratt plays the epileptic kid from a broken family with a special connection to the invading aliens. I felt I’d seen this storyline before in other alien invasion films and series (Falling Skies, to name one). But then there is Shamier Anderson, the special forces operator trying to find his way home from Afghanistan as the world falls apart around him. I enjoyed his story arc better. One particular scene moved me, where Anderson’s character, Trevante Cole, sits under the stars with an Afghani goat herder, trying to have a conversation when neither man can understand each other’s language. It is heartfelt and unexpected, as Trevante’s arrogance and feeling of well-armed superiority are slowly chipped away.

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Shamier Anderson as Trevante Cole in Invasion

Mitsuki Yamato’s story arc was also one that got to me. Shioli Kutsuna plays the rebellious and increasingly desperate communication technician who starts hearing her girlfriend’s voice coming from space as the invasion progresses. Mitsuki’s struggle to make contact sends her into conflict with her co-workers and the Japanese government. Her character and emotionally charged story were perhaps the most surprising for me in the series, and I gradually found myself enjoying her story arc the most.

Invasion also has the kinds of scenes and sequences we’re used to from similar series. The story of Golshifteh Farahani’s character, Aneesha Malik, is that of escape, survival and trust. It is more standard alien invasion fare, with tense flights from both strange and menacing creatures and heavily armed survivors. The despairing Aneesha soon encounters the desperate and the worst of humanity as society collapses and people take what remains of the law into their own hands.

But what of Sam Neill? He might be the biggest name in Invasion, and the trailers and marketing won’t let us forget that he is here. But his role, despite being necessary to the story, is sadly a small one and one seemingly limited to the first episodes. It would have been nice to see Sam Neill have a more prominent role in the story as a whole.

Shioli Kutsuna as Misuki Yamato in Invasion

A Sense of Realism

The sense of realism that is stitched through the various storylines in Invasion is something I’ve rarely seen in other series in the alien invasion subgenre. There are few exposition dumps, and for the most part, we are kept guessing. Invasion goes for more show than tell, which works to its advantage.

The aliens themselves are also kept just out of sight for the most part. As the story unfolds, we start to see more and more aftermaths of their attacks. And when they finally show up, they do not disappoint. Far from being people in rubber suits, these Lovecraftian horrors feel really, well, alien.

The show’s creators, Simon Kinberg (The Martian, Logan and X-Men: Days of Future Past) and David Weil (Solos, Hunters and The Twilight Zone), have brought originality to this tried and true but somewhat overused science fiction subgenre. There are influences from other science fiction films and series, of course. I could see influences from films such as M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place and even Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, especially in some designs and special effects. And of course, HG Wells’s science fiction classic The War of the Worlds has had a significant influence on the series.

To sum it all up: Invasion is a slow-burn, character-driven invasion drama with some excellent performances throughout. There is a creeping sense of apocalyptic dread as the world falls apart and society collapses. This is a far cry from the more bombastic Independence Day, with jet fighters and exploding landmarks. Invasion is a story of humanity in an inhumane situation.

Invasion can be streamed on Apple TV+ from the 22nd of October.

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