Aussie sci-fi epic ‘Occupation Rainfall’ impresses with its visuals and action sequences but not with its tangle of muddled storylines

Aussie Independence Day: Rebels attack invading aliens in ‘Occupation Rainfall’.

OCCUPATION RAINFALL **1/2 (128 minutes) M
In one regard, at least, the hugely ambitious, locally made, independently mounted and singularly loud sci-fi action epic Occupation Rainfall is an unqualified triumph.

In a movie market stuffed with visual effects-driven extravaganzas costing around $200 million per pop (including catering) writer/director Luke Sparke has proven with his third feature that the epic scale and sweep of such blockbusters can be matched on a fraction of the budget, and without any of the seams showing.

The film is a stand-alone sequel to his 2018 film Occupation, which told of the residents of a quiet country town forced to battle a horde of nasty aliens who have just begun their invasion of Earth.

In Rainfall matters have ramped up exponentially. The human rebel resistance on Earth has been beaten down to a rag-tag group of defiant soldiers and pilots who continue their fight against what appears to be overwhelming odds.

Orbiting Earth are gargantuan alien war ships while near the surface going toe-to-toe with the humans are these oddly attractive battle cruisers containing hundreds of alien fighters apiece. Floating majestically above the scarred landscape, they can also emit devastating death rays capable of turning trees and troops into toast.

Action is the name of the game here and the boom-crash sequences in Rainfall are easily the equal of anything we see from Hollywood spectacles. The aerial battles, in particular, are intricately orchestrated and splendidly edited as Australian jet fighters charge with kamikaze glee into waves of alien attackers as they emerge from their magnificently designed mother ships.

So, when it comes to serving up the action and the VFX, Occupation Rainfall is duly impressive and on point, with many big sequences that are difficult to carp about. It’s a notable achievement and for that Sparke and his team deserve kudos and bouquets aplenty.

Storywise, however, it’s a different story.

The film has a lot going on, so much so that it simply becomes too hard to follow; character motivations become muddled and events become difficult to understand.

The film’s A-story involves a cross-country trek from the shambles of Sydney to Pine Gap taken by rebel Matt Simmons (Dan Ewing) and an alien turncoat nick-named Gary (Lawrence Makoare). Their mission is to discover what Rainfall means. Regrettably, the answer to that makes the film even more baffling.

Back at the rebel base there’s bile between the win-at-all-costs commander (Daniel Gillies) and his meddling victory-means-nothing-without-honour sub-commander (Jet Tranter). Seems she’s got a problem with her boss using alien prisoners as experimental guinea pigs to make a warhead that’ll repel the aliens for good.

Running parallel is a scribble of storylines that are just too difficult to track, at least in one viewing. On that score, Sparke might be in luck; the huge fanboy base he developed with Occupation (a huge hit on Netflix) is composed of precisely the type of bods who love seeing films over and over.

With Rainfall they could take the frenzied storytelling as a challenge to re-watch the film until they can figure out a coherent framework that makes sense of everything.

That said, it’s doubtful that even fanboys will forgive some of the jaded sci-fi cliches that run through Rainfall.

Of these the biggest and most annoying is one we have simply seen too many times thanks to Star Wars.

To wit: how is it that an overwhelming alien adversary with giant space ships and awesome weaponry and countless troops can traverse the universe and smash down upon a tiny gaggle of resistance fighters to the point of annihilation, yet its hapless foot soldiers can’t fight their way down a corridor?

This is, of course, in strict accordance with that rule in space operas – thank you again, Star Wars – whereby all the tactical advantages of advanced technological ingenuity and massive amounts of military hardware are negated by a recruiting policy that only seems to admit the most dim-witted applicants, and then neglects to train them about how to shoot straight.

By any fair measure, Luke Sparke is an extraordinary Australian filmmaker. He made his feature debut in 2016 with Red Billabong, followed by Occupation in 2018 and now, a mere two years later, his super-sized sequel Occupation Rainfall.

At 35, Sparke has illustrated the creative advantages and viability of working independently (though he does benefit from the government’s producer offset).

Speaking frankly in this interview, Sparke discusses the challenges of making Occupation Rainfall, its scale compared to Occupation, his plans for another installment and how the film managed to secure a 200-screen release.

The interview was conducted on Thursday 21 January, 2021, the night after the red-carpet premiere in Robina, Queensland. It was done over a pretty sketchy Skype connection, so while Sparke is intelligible please excuse the lapses in video and audio quality.