J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg make an impressive team as they bring this thrilling film to life. The storyline is masterfully crafted, leaving you both exhilarated and exhausted, but not in a way that keeps you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next scene. However, if you’re a fan of sci-fi, this film is a must-see.
Set in 1979, the film follows the story of middle-schooler Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), who has learned to take care of himself since his mother’s death. When Joe and his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) start making an indie zombie movie for a film festival, they enlist fellow classmate Alice (Elle Fanning) to be their leading lady. As they venture out to a local train station to film a scene, an unexpected train derailment unleashes something terrifying in their small town of Lillian, Ohio. The group continues filming, using the disaster as a backdrop, while they try to figure out what to do next.
What makes this film so captivating is how it’s really about growing up and taking responsibility, with sci-fi elements serving as the backdrop. Like Spielberg’s earlier works in the same genre, the focus is on the kids, not the monster. Writer/director J.J. Abrams has written the characters with enough depth and complexity to make them believable, and the film rewards the audience during the credits with the actual product of their work.
The cast is spot on, with Joel Courtney transforming from a supportive sidekick to a natural leader, while Riley Griffiths captures the manic energy and intensity of a young film director. Elle Fanning’s ethereal presence adds a magical quality to the film. While the adults are mostly one-note characters, this is appropriate for a film seen from a kid’s point of view, and Abrams adds just enough complexity to make them less stereotypical.
This film takes risks, and they pay off in a summer full of predictable sequels. The grounded, coming-of-age story is a refreshing change from typical sci-fi adventures, and the film’s message about the power of friendship and taking responsibility is both heartwarming and inspiring. While waiting for it to come to DVD might be tempting, seeing it on the big screen is an experience not to be missed.