My ears always perk up every time a new title from DREAD is on the way. The label formerly known as Dread Central Presents has quickly become one of the most consistently solid teams around, dropping killer titles (Terrifier, Extremity, Slay Belles, Dry Blood, etc.) virtually every time. The latest in their stable is Assassinaut (2019), a sci-fi thriller written and directed by Drew Bolduc (The Taint, Science Team). The film has been drawing some good hype, so I was excited to check it out for myself. Unfortunately, my excitement was extremely short lived.
Assassinaut tells the story of four teenagers selected to be sent into outer space. Their mission is to find a more suitable and hospitable planet for the people of earth to live on, as alien invasion and nuclear holocaust has left the planet in a ravaged state. It’s quite accurately pointed out that the whole thing reeks of a big PR stunt, suggesting that if children can safely travel into space and inhabit an alien planet, anybody can. They’re beamed aboard a nearby space station to meet with the President of Earth, and to complete their training, before embarking on their dangerous journey. But after an assassination attempt on the President’s life, the kids are quickly shoved into an escape pod and jettisoned to the planet meant to be our salvation. But they quickly discover this hostile alien wilderness is anything but a safe and happy new home. Now it’s a race against time to try to save the President, who also narrowly escaped. But it’s also a fight for their very own survival.
I like to think I’m largely an optimist, I can usually find the positive in just about anything, but I’m at a genuine loss here. Assassinaut is a complete fail in nearly every possible regard, except for a little extraordinary practical effects work. This movie is being marketed as some kind of body horror spectacle, but don’t be duped. While there are some legitimately outstanding effects work on display, it’s an extremely minute portion of the film. And whatever gooey genius is to be had is buried beneath the poor storytelling and downright atrocious acting. Shannon Hutchinson as Sarah is our primary lead here, but she’s utterly lackluster and unconvincing. The best performance comes from Jasmina Parent (credited here as Marie Jasmina) as Charlie, who Sarah seems to build the strongest friendship with. There seems to be a cluster of ideas happening here, but they never narrow the focus enough down on any one of them. They would have needed to bombard me with a lot more body horror bliss to redeem this waste of an hour and twenty minutes.
There’s no denying the effects wizardry of Drew Bolduc. It’s a big part of what brought him to the dance, and Assassinaut does deliver, but in too small of a dose to barely notice. I’ve seen other reviewers talk about how grisly and gory it is, which amazes me because while it is bloody, most of the violence happens off-screen. We catch it for fleeting moments or only get to see the aftermath. Killing children still seems to be a major horror taboo. You can slaughter high school teens and promiscuous college brats as brutally as you want all the live-long day, but bumping off kids is still touchy subject matter. Even here, where the children are central to the story, they still tiptoe gingerly around killing them off. Not to sound like a merciless savage, but you gotta go for the gusto. If body horror and practical effects are your specialties, as in the case of this film, they should have reveled in it. A full-blown gorefest and effects showcase might have propelled Assassinaut beyond the realms of the forgettable, but this space exploration doesn’t even get off the ground. It’s suggested in the film that kids have no business being in space, and at least in the case of Assassinaut, they couldn’t be more right.
Assassinaut is available now on Blu-ray through Epic Pictures and on most VOD services.