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Infection: The Invasion Begins
There's a lot to be said for independent, small budget film production. It allows a freedom of content and theme that is often not possible with bigger budget films. It offers flexibility and spurs creativity. Unfortunately, the bland and confusing sci-fi horror film Infection: The Invasion Begins fails to inspire or thrill, and is only hampered by its small budget.
Bookended by a reporter interviewing the aged Sarah Prescott (Kelly Pendygraft), the story involves an otherworldly invasion of a small town by giant tapeworm type aliens who arrive via a meteorite. At around the same time as the tapeworms, local boy Deke (Bryan Brewer) comes back to town after having spent ten years in prison for murder. Naturally, the town is less than welcoming, particularly his mother (Marcia Moran) and former girlfriend Sarah. He is hassled by Sarah's would be suitor Billy (Brian Guest) and Sheriff Bowen (Lochlyn Munro of Dead Man on Campus fame) and generally given a hard time.
Deke is soon locked up in relation to a suspicious disappearance (the missing man was actually infected with an alien tapeworm) and waits helplessly as more and more people succumb to the otherworldly menace. The town begins to fall into chaos, with the emotionless infected attacking everyone they encounter. Sarah gets Deke out of jail, and they struggle to find a way to defeat the parasitic invaders.
Infection doesn't work well in lots of ways, or rather it's less than the sum of its parts. The acting is moderate, better than a lot out there, but not good. Brian Guest as Billy and David Jean Thomas as the café owner Jerry give probably the best and most energetic performances, but Kelly Pendygraft isn't bad. (Although it was a mistake for her to play the very aged version of Sarah. The makeup doesn't work, looking more like a horrific skin condition than the effects of advanced years and she is simply not believable as an old lady.) The dialogue that these actors are asked to say, however, is suboptimal to say the least. At one point, a Sheriff's deputy says, "He's right. The longer we stay here it's just a matter of time before they find us." Razor sharp wit and playful banter this is not. But the cast does the best they can with it.
The bigger problems are the often confusing plot and character actions, the lazy exposition and poor effects. The effects can be chalked up to the likely miniscule budget, and therefore somewhat forgiven. But a tight script and smooth exposition are essentially cost free, and they don't appear here. Great logical leaps are taken, such as when Deke figures out exactly how to cure a tapeworm infected person in seconds, and is able immediately to find just the right ingredients to work up what he needs. A little later, the nerdy scientist character Stooley (Chuck Carter) calls Sarah on the phone and declares that the tapeworms can smell blood, without any inkling as to how he was able to learn this, though it is quite helpful to the plot.
In addition, most of the dramatic beats, and for that matter the comedic ones, are just a bit off. The humor almost works, but doesn't, as exemplified in a scene where Jerry gives Deke a pistol, but only two bullets and simply urges him to aim well. It should be funny, and if the timing were more on target it would be, but it isn't. No real tension is developed or maintained. The audience never feels a deep sympathy for the characters, particularly our hero Deke, who at least seems to be a not very repentant murderer. As a result, the awkwardly staged action scenes have little to no impact.
Infection: The Invasion Begins is a film that almost works, on nearly every level. The performances are good, but not great. The story is at times confusing and contrived, but has a core of dramatic possibilities just waiting to be exploited. The effects are low quality, but the best they could afford. The dialogue is stiff and unnatural, but not terribly so. It just needs a bit of polish. The photography lacks innovation and a strong style, but it's competent. The viewer wants the film to burst free of its limitations and astound us with its pent up genius. But that moment never arrives. It ends up being a collection of almosts and if only's. Unfortunately, director Howard Wexler can't quite pull all the elements together and raise the game enough to bring the film to high quality territory. That's a shame. This is one to rent, at most.
The video is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and has some issues. There is the occasional posterization and graininess. But the film is generally bright and clear. However, this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
The sound is in Dolby 2 channel, and is generally good. The dialogue is always clearly audible, and no hiss or other issues are detectable. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are available. However, this review is based on a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
The only extras included are two sets of interviews, the first with the casting director and a few members of the cast, and the second with the director of photography, editor, effects coordinator, gaffer and key grip. While it's rare to have such crew members as the gaffer and key grip on extra materials, and their comments were at times interesting, overall the interviews are bland and uninteresting. However, keep in mind that this review is based on a check disc, and no comment can be made on the quantity or quality of the extras included with the final product.
Infection: The Invasion Begins could have been a good film if it had played to its strengths, tightened up its script and polished its dialogue. It comes close to being successful, but ultimately is not. All the ingredients are there, the potential, but these are not taken advantage of. Sadly, it ends up as a below average film, though by no means worthless. Rent this one, but keep your expectations low.