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Beyond Fest movie review: 'Kids vs. Aliens' is a close encounter of the awesome kind

"Kids vs. Aliens" is about kids fighting aliens. Photo courtesy of RLJE Entertainment
"Kids vs. Aliens" is about kids fighting aliens. Photo courtesy of RLJE Entertainment

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- Kids vs. Aliens, which screened at Beyond Fest Saturday, is a throwback to youth-friendly sci-fi films of the '80s. Only, Kids vs. Aliens is as gory as all the other '80s horror movies, so it's a throwback for fans of both genres or maybe kids who never really grew up.

Samantha (Phoebe Rex) is always stuck babysitting her brother Gary (Dominic Mariche) and his friends. They make movies together with some fairly elaborate costumes and props.

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When teenager Billy (Calem MacDonald) makes eyes at Samantha, she shifts her focus to dressing nice and looking good for him. But, Billy is only using Samantha so he can throw a party at her house while her parents are traveling, again leaving her to babysit.

Writer/director Jason Eisener creates the sense that these kids are in it together, even before the arrival of the aliens the title promises. Samantha and Gary's parents show little interest in either of their kids' lives, and take Samantha for granted as their live-in babysitter.

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Samantha has a poignant arc, wanting to explore the interest of a guy, even if Billy acts like the typical sulky teenager around everyone else. She sees who he really is for herself soon enough at the party.

The party really escalates to where Billy becomes so dangerous one really worries about Gary and Samantha stuck with this terrorist and his legion in their house. And everyone at the party is understandably distracted from the actual aliens who've now started roaming around.

When the aliens show up, Samantha gets to be the real hero. The skills she uses in her family's movies, and the responsibility that's already been thrust upon her too young, pay off when she's fighting for her life and everyone else's.

Mariche and the kids playing Gary's friends (Asher Grayson and Ben Tector) are natural. They embrace the awkwardness of that age as well as the autonomy and individuality for which young children rarely get credit.

The aliens are relentless. They just keep coming. No matter how the kids escape one, there are more coming out of the ship.

The aliens are people in suits wearing great costumes that could easily grace the cover of Fangoria Magazine. When the aliens kill people, it is gory and slimey.

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Though the level of violence will surely warrant an R-rating, it's outrageous enough that it probably won't scare kids. There is such a homemade feel that Kids vs. Aliens seems more like the movie kids would want to make than one that would scare them, yet it does boast the resources of more industry veterans applying their childlike aesthetic.

Eisener's previous film, Hobo with a Shotgun, was an extreme action movie with truly hardcore violence. In Kids vs. Aliens, he applies his aesthetic to a more family-oriented adventure without pulling any punches.

RLJE Entertainment will release Kids vs. Aliens in 2023. A Shudder streaming release will follow.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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