Hollywood has often told us that the whisper heard on the winds is the death rattle of the big summer blockbuster. Aside from Marvel Studios and the Fast and Furious franchises we have seen more sink than swim over the last few years and the breakout hit is largely a thing of the past. Beloved properties have come under the axe of marketing and corporate intervention and audiences worldwide are incredibly underwhelmed. The COVID crisis has further cemented the fact that the world loves movies… good ones. Moviegoers will still make their way to the drive-in to relive the adventures of hero archaeologist Indiana Jones and share the fear of nature’s nightmares with Sheriff Brody on Amity Island. Knowing all of this begs a pretty big question, “If we can get a film like Attack of the Unknown on its relatively modest budget, what in the hell is Hollywood’s problem?”
Attack opens with a swat team’s raid on a high-profile meeting of organized crime’s elite with notorious kingpin Miguel “Hades” Aguirre (Robert LaSardo). After taking Hades into custody the team are in the midst of transporting him when an otherworldy threat descends upon the city, thrusting their lives and the citizens of Los Angeles into an apocalyptic warzone. Swat member Vernon (Richard Grieco) leads his team against the threat, hunkering down in a county jail that sets the tone of the film somewhere between Predator and Assault on Precinct 13. These comparisons, are not meant to belittle the aim of the film, instead its just enough familiarity to allow the audience to sink in comfortably and enjoy the ride.
Knowing when to play to its strengths and minimize its weaknesses, Attack of the Unknown sets a great example for indie sci-fi faire: write the story you want to write and figure out a way to make it happen. Attack, quite frankly, is a hugely ambitious endeavor for its budget and manages to cut all the necessary corners to show its bigger themes in intimate environments, creating and sustaining the illusion of a city under siege. Grieco and company do exactly what is needed of them and the team has a surprisingly believable rapport for characters that we’ve all seen before. Again, director/writer Brandon Slagle doesn’t try to fool us into thinking that this is brand new wheel he’s made, he simply gives it a push and shows us how well it still turns.
Attack of the Unknown mixes some of Hollywood’s most successful themes in an indie wrapper and never tries to underplay the fact that it’s pointing to the fences. Remarkably, it hits more than it misses providing a summer sci-fi actioner that would feel more than at home at your local AMC. RECOMMENDED.