From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Disaster unfolds when a meteor strikes a small town, turning the environment uninhabitable and killing everything in the surrounding area.”
Look, folks, I’ll stop short of suggesting that writer/director Eddie Arya lifted the better elements of many truly inspired Science Fiction flicks, mashed them together, and did his best riff on all of them in creating Risen (2021) because I’d like to think that no legitimate one would craft a story in such a fashion. Of course, there are those who say that there are only so many stories in the known universe, so – at some point – these separate but hardly equal features do start to resemble one another if even only superficially. However, I can’t help but notice an astonishing number of narrative and technical similarities between quite a few, the least of which being the much-celebrated Arrival (2016). And I say this as one who, honestly, wasn’t nearly as smitten with Arrival as were so many. The Denis Villeneuve production is heartfelt; but its pacing leaves something to the imagination as well.
Setting aside these similarities can only leave regular folk scratching their heads as to why Risen was such a critical darling on the film festival circuit, scoring an impressive nine wins (as per IMDB.com) across a good handful of categories. (Of course, I say this thinking that such information matters to most viewers, and – egads! – nothing could be further from the truth.) At 109 minutes, Risen crawls at slower than a snail’s pace with the majority of its plotlines all revolving around a rather unconventional plot twist that comes in the last reel. This wouldn’t feel so unfortunate if the development was better conceived, but – as it stands – Arya’s script seems to deliberately obscure the truth behind its central character mostly because smart viewers would deem such a reveal to be entirely the product of a screenwriter’s over-active imagination and hardly authentic or organic.
Let me try to explain further …
Once there – and outfitted in the customary yellow containment/Hazmat suits made popular by just about any plague-riddled theatrical release – Stone displays zero technical knowledge about anything but does manage to spend a few moments on her knees caressing a red-bladed plant that’s sprung from the soil at Ground Zero. (Did she really think this was a good idea? Touching something in a crater known for its toxicity? If this demonstrates Earth’s best and brightest, no wonder we’re on track to oblivion.) Otherwise, the woman sulks and skulks about the place, and I’m left wondering what the point to all of this could possibly be except to feel like a community theater production of The Thing.
But before you can say “E.T., phone home,” a good portion of the dead are suddenly reanimated – into the Living Dead, it would seem – and they’ll only speak with Stone for reasons that … well … I can’t tell you that without spoiling it … so there. Let’s just say that our lead may not be the fresh-faced and wholesome … erm … well, she’s not that, either … so let’s just say that she might have some very, very, very personal attachment to what’s transpiring on screen. Divulging it now would spoil Arya’s attempt to tap into M. Night Shyamalan territory.
As I’ve tried to be expressly clear, Risen never feels anything remotely original at any point. Borrowing rather liberally from It Came From Outer Space (1953), Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956), Night Of The Living Dead (1968), The Andromeda Strain (1971), Independence Day (1995), Arrival (2016), and a handful of others, it instead tries to recapture the lesser moments of greater pursuits, all the while never offering so much as a new spin or an organic on its own. To a degree, there’s nothing wrong with such comparisons – it certainly underscores that one could very well be in ‘good company,’ as they say – but this alignment feels cheap because that’s where the similarities start and stop. There’s no new layer – only new faces – so I found it very difficult to get excited in any way about the effort.
What I found a bit unforgivable was that Stone never felt like she even cared about herself … or her profession … or the greater world at large. In fact, her character demonstrated some of the strongest antisocial behaviors I’ve ever seen in a Science Fiction and/or Fantasy film, so kudos for breaking that glass ceiling, milady. Granted, she’s been shackled by the script with what I’m thinking all involved truly thought was a unique existential problem (can’t discuss it in any depth without spoiling it), but when the scipt’s lead is so emotionally detached from seemingly resolved if not confronting any and all dilemmas, then how is the audience supposed to invest in her? It’s a curious miscalculation, at least, if not an act of total narrative destruction, at worst.
Lastly, Risen suffers from some of the worst Hollywood tendencies in that its script requires all white males to be either stupid, ineffective, or just plain evil.
Risen (2021) was produced by Aryavision Pictures and Vertical Entertainment. According to a quick Google.com search, the film is showing presently available for streaming on such platforms as Tubi, Prime Video, Vudu, or Apple TV. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the sights and sounds to the picture were reasonably well done: some of the special effects sequences were surprisingly dated if not outright underwhelming, and I even laughed at a few of them as their quality was so jarring. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? As I viewed this film via Prime Video, there were no special features under consideration.
Recommended only if you’re interested in a few unintended laughs or wanna see how other filmmakers might piggyback on the success of other like-minded features by creating their own iteration.
It’s honestly hard to give Risen (2021) an any reasonable front as it’s flawed on so many technical fronts. While I can appreciate the attempt to bring mature elements to any alien invasion story, this one really seems to spend an inordinate amount of time with a central narrator so self-obsessed that she can’t pull herself away from her personal problems to deal with the extinction-level-event unfolding around her. (Yes, yes, yes: without spoiling it, I do realize there’s a reason for that, but it isn’t a very good one.) I ended up laughing in more spots than I should have, and that’s never a good thing … well, except for the endorphins.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’m beholden to no one for my review of Risen (2021) as I watched this one via a streaming platform of which I’m a subscriber.