Teens In A Dystopian Future…. Now With Aliens!

Chloë Grace Moretz is the latest heroine face of the teen novel turned film wave that has been steadily washing over us the last few years.  The hook, for this franchise in the waiting, is that it is better than the Divergent series’ last entry, Insurgent, which was simply Shailene Woodley attempting to open a box for Kate Winslet for 2 hours.  The other thing that sets The 5th Wave apart is that it is not based on a political showdown (The Hunger GamesDivergent), a super-secret about our world that society is hiding from us (The Giver), or even an experiment on our own people (The Maze Runner).  Instead it involves good old fashioned alien invasion.

While many might see the title, The 5th Wave, and assume that they have missed 4 previous entries to the series, have no fear.  This film is the first of what looks like to be a series of films dealing with how a group of teens and kids fight back against their alien invaders.

Based on the book by Rick Yancey, the story is one where an alien ship suddenly appears in the sky, circling the earth, before settling in over Ohio.  For weeks there is nothing but silence from our visitor friends, dubbed “The Others” by the local human population…just a hovering ship.  This is not to be confused with “The Others” who share the island with the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 in the show LOST.

“The others” lull the earth to sleep with non-action.  Humans keep a suspicious eye on the ship above but go about their business.  Without warning, the first wave hits, which is an EMT attack.  This is followed shortly after by severe flooding and then a global bird flu.  For those in the population who survive, the next attack is small sniper teams from the alien ship, masquerading as humans, killing those who have so far survived.

Chloë Grace Moritz plays Cassie Sullivan, a high school-aged girl with a younger brother named Sam (Zackary Arthur), whom she sings to sleep each night with the Coldplay song “Don’t Panic“.  Her mother Lisa (Maggie Siff) and Oliver (Ron Livingston-Office Space) are cool-headed individuals who step up to help as their community experiences the first 4 waves of attack.

Finding themselves in a make-shift refugee camp to escape the 4th wave, the U.S. Army finally arrives headed up by Col. Vosch (Leiv Schreiber, Spotlight).  Col. Vosch seeks to bus the children to a protected military base followed by the adults due to a plan “the others” have for the children.  Also, since “the others” can mask themselves as humans, it is apparently easier to figure out which kids are human and which aren’t.  The adults have a much harder screening process. When Cassie gets separated from Sam on the bus and simultaneously witnesses a tragic situation involving the adults, including her father, Cassie finds herself on the run. Her goals is to catch up to Sam at the military base, and be reunited with him as they prepare for the 5th and final wave of attack by the alien invaders.

The film fortunately does not try to show the aliens, keeping at least some element of mystery to the whole affair.  Instead, the film largely becomes a road trip film as Cassie finds herself in the company of Evan (Alex Roe), a stranger whom she must decide if she can trust him to help get her to the base where her brother is.  She finds danger along the way, of course, which drives the narrative forward.  A lot of cuts go back and forth between Cassie’s journey and that of Sam.  Sam finds himself being trained, along with the other children from the refugee camp, to be the last resistance against this alien foe.  In his unit, is, predictably, the boy of Cassie’s dreams back at high school, Ben Parish.  Ben, who has lost his family in the first 4 waves, has a reason to want to be trained to take out this enemy and willingly obliges Sgt. Reznik (Maria Bello) who chooses him for her unit.

While the film is a step up in many ways from Insurgent, it still suffers from being a thoroughly predictable story from start to finish.  I found myself finishing lines of dialogue before they were uttered on screen, as there are many lines of cliche being uttered by the actors.  Being about aliens, the film naturally has a narrative weaving throughout the story about what it means to truly be human.  The military training of Sam and Ben works alongside the survivalist focus of Cassie’s journey, yet neither story feels as fleshed out as it could have been.

Red Dawn, the original 1985 film, could have served as a great template for this film in how a group of young people slowly become equipped to handle the invasion they are facing.  Instead, the film rushes through these parts and slows down for typical teen romance and melodrama that is obviously taken from the pages that this film is based upon.  The writers of the screenplay would have better served the pacing and the narrative had they looked to develop the characters and their transformation a little more, though I know they probably felt the pressure to keep elements of the novel intact given that their core audience will be made up of the teens who read the book.

For all of its shortcomings, it is at least a serviceable entry in the teen dystopian film fad that we are currently experiencing, and again, it is better than the latest Divergent film, Insurgent.  If there is a sequel (depending on the box office this one does), let us hope that Liev Schreiber’s character is given more screen time as his turn was one of the more interesting things going on.

So while a wave of predictability and teen drama will wash over you during your screening of the film, at least it will be one that will at be entertaining at a time of year when nothing is really expected to wow us at the box office.  So welcome to the latest teen dystopian film…only now, it has aliens.