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The 5th Wave (2016)
Director: J. Blakeson

review by J.C. Hartley
Spoiler alert!
Made a slight mistake in looking this up before viewing, where I discovered it was a 'young adult' movie and had received less than ecstatic reviews from 'the critics'; it's not always a good idea doing preliminary research. Anyway, fortified with a glass or two of bourbon I settled down to watch, and guess what..? Reader, I liked it. Carried in an engaging performance by all-grown-up Chloe Grace Moretz, called upon to emote throughout, The 5th Wave has its faults. It's perhaps a little bit derivative, and the ending seems perfunctory and too concerned with flagging up a possible sequel or sequels (or, god forbid, a TV series), and one of the big reveals is telegraphed, while the other just sort of passes by. But, all said and done, despite this being nearly two hours long I wasn't clock-watching at any point.

Moretz plays Cassie, living a normal teenage life, lusting secretly after high-school jock Ben (Nick Robinson), and devoted to her younger brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur, already a veteran actor at age nine years). A big alien craft appears in the sky, Independence Day style, heralding a sequence of attacks or 'waves' by 'the Others', destroying infrastructure and taking human lives. An EMP nullifies human technology, a sequence of earthquakes and tsunamis destroy coastal cities, and avian flu kills large portions of the population including the children's mother, whereupon the 4th wave occurs, an actual alien landing.

The siblings' father takes Cassie and Sam to a refugee camp in the woods, where Cassie's dad gives her a Colt 45 and some perfunctory lessons on how it works. This seems like an advertising spot for the NRA but for what happens next. An army unit rolls into the camp under the command of Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber), Cassie points out to her father that she thought all human tech was destroyed following the EMP. Vosch announces that an evacuation to a place of safety is to be carried out with priority given to the children. Cassie and Sammy board a commandeered school bus but are separated when Cassie has to return for Sammy's teddy bear. Meanwhile, a stand-off has occurred between adults and soldiers, and when the inevitably pistol-packing adults draw their weapons they are massacred by the army unit.

The film then follows the parallel narratives of Cassie and Sam. Sammy, nicknamed Nugget, is taken to an army base where he falls in with Cassie's secret love-interest Ben. Having survived the avian flu, Ben is now known as Zombie. An indoctrination process reveals to the children that the Others have physically possessed surviving humans in order to launch the 5th Wave. The children are to be trained, armed, and provided with scanning technology to spot alien 'drones', highlighted by their green glowing skulls. Ben/ Zombie is put in charge of a squad which includes tough-girl Ringer (Maika Monroe, soon to appear in Independence Day: Resurgence), and pitched into battle. Ambushed in a street-fight, Ben's squad discovers that the scanning equipment they have been provided with is actually designed to identify humans, and that they have been fighting their own kind. Having tricked Nugget into remaining behind, Ben opts to return on his own to rescue the boy from those they now realise are alien Others.

Meanwhile, Cassie has been shot and wounded before being rescued by a mysterious recluse Evan (Alex Roe), living in the woods on the fringes of the army camp. Evan reveals that the army camp is a front for the Others and he will accompany Cassie to rescue Sam. After their relationship has developed into a physical one following increasing intimacy, Cassie and Evan are accosted in the woods by someone who identifies Evan as a drone; when the challenge turns into violence Evan displays enhanced physical strength to overpower and kill his attacker. Evan reveals to Cassie that while he was born human he is some sort of alien hybrid, part of a sleeper cell planted to await the invasion. He attempts to reassure her that his love for her has reaffirmed his loyalty to his own race.

Ben and Cassie converge on the army base both intent on saving Sam, and the film hastens to an explosive conclusion leaving, as Johnny Nash was wont to point out, more questions than answers. Why would aliens, who could cross space, disguise themselves as humans, and harness the forces of nature as weapons, use kids as a task force to mop up resistance? While the critical panning seemed to leave this film in limbo, a healthy box-office has suggested that there might be more to come.

Personally speaking, I thoroughly enjoyed it but I don't feel any great compunction to see how the story pans out. One other point, while so many films resort to tentacled grey-faced look-alikes for their aliens, this one never reveals the true face of the menace. Schreiber is admirably serious-faced in his role as Vosch, and adds the requisite amount of gravitas. Director Blakeson has an interesting career, so far, with The Descent 2, and The Disappearance Of Alice Creed, and I don't think this is going to do him any harm.

There's the usual slew of extras onboard, including the ubiquitous gag reel, deleted scenes, previews, and the following featurettes: Creating A New World; Inside The 5th Wave; Training Squad 53; The 5th Wave Survival Guide; 'Sammy on the Set', the kid co-star doing on-set interviews; and the usual people-talking-in-the-cinema commentary by Moretz and the director.

The 5th Wave blu-ray

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