Contemporary Russian cinema is an odd beast in the sense that not a lot of it seems to be reaching our shores. The last director from the region to make a splash in the Western world was Timur Bekmambetov. His modern day fantasies about the Swatch phenomenon, Night Watch and Day Watch, netted him production deals in Hollywood and his successful US debut with Wanted, but since then the iron curtain of creativity has seemingly been dropped back into place.
But just because US audiences aren’t seeing them doesn’t mean they’re not out there.
Case in point is the new film Alien Girl… a violent crime thriller about bad guys with guns and a badder woman with brains. And a vagina.
Ukraine, September 1993. Four ruffians are ambushed and shot to death in their car. Except one of them survives long enough to identify a shooter who in turn is then arrested with the expectation that he’ll testify against a big, bad crime boss named Rasp. No stranger to avoiding problems Rasp orders three of his underlings to find and kidnap the witness’ younger sister to hold as leverage against his testimony. Booger, Whiz, Kid, and Beef head to Prague where they find Angela aka “Alien” held prisoner by yet another bad guy. One bloody gunfight later the survivors head back to Ukraine with Alien in tow.
What they failed to consider though is that their innocent and weak hostage is anything but, and almost immediately she begins to make some moves of her own.
What follows is a mix of the gritty, raw, and slightly predictable as Alien tries to use her feminine wiles and other forms of persuasion to achieve her goal of something greater than mere survival. Her actions contribute to brief flurries of bloodshed, but she’s far from strong protagonist material. Writers Vladimir Nesterenko and Sergei Sokolyuk don’t seem to be entirely sure where they want the audience’s loyalties to lie and instead present a free for all look at capitalism gone wild in a highly corrupt modern society. Every character works ferociously in their own interests as they chase the almighty dollar, and while that’s been the theme to many a fine film it hurts here as none of these people exhibit much in the way of charisma or charm.
What director Anton Bormatov’s film lacks on the page he almost manages to make up for onscreen. The action scenes are played straight with no attempts to ape Hollywood or Hong Kong style gunplay, and the violence has an immediate rawness about it. It’s no doubt due to budgetary necessity, but it also manages a certain style of its own. He’s less successful in the film’s middle as an unlikely and unbelievable romance is given time to develop.
Alien Girl lacks the visual punch and stylistic flourishes of Bekmambetov’s work that got him noticed in the West, so Bormatov should expect no such welcome for now. He does showcase some skill with the materials at hand though, so future efforts with better scripts and a slightly bigger budget may just turn him into a household name. Or maybe just a directing gig on Wanted 2.
The Upside: Violence is immediate and raw; action feels flatly realistic
The Downside: None of the characters are appealing; ending seems unexplained; Olga Kurylenko should have starred as she makes everything better