LOCARNO, Switzerland – Here’s a twist for fans of creature features: Aliens versus Vikings. There’s no reason to suppose that if extra-terrestrials visit Earth it has to be in modern times. In Howard McCain’s “Outlander,” futuristic terrors land in 10th century Norway with no idea what they’re getting into.
It’s entertaining nonsense with major league special effects, larger-than-life characters and inventive monsters that draw on the “Aliens” and “Predator” models, being terrifying but also vaguely sympathetic. The film had its world premiere at the Locarno International Film Festival and, handled suitably by the Weinstein Company in the U.S. and Wild Bunch internationally, it should do crowd-pleasing business all around.
The opening sequence is all science fiction as a space ship zooms through the skies and crashes on a remote seaside cliff top. Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”) plays Kainan, the lone survivor of the crash, and he quickly uses a portable machine that is both tracking device and database to acquire — via his retina — everything he needs to know about his new location.
Appearing invulnerable with a nifty 25th century sidearm, the intruder explores the terrain and discovers a village that has been decimated with buildings burned and bodies everywhere. He is quickly knocked off his feet, disarmed and captured by a Viking warrior on horseback named Wulfric (Jack Huston), who carries him to a vast encampment.
There, Kainan meets wise old King Rothgar (John Hurt) and his lovely but dangerous daughter Freya (Sophia Myles, pictured with Huston) and learns about a rival king named Gunnar (Ron Perlman), whose village was destroyed.
Without revealing anything about himself, Kainan convinces Rothgar and his people that he has inadvertently brought with him from the north a fearsome creature called the Moorwen, and after assorted games that lead to male bonding, they all set off to find the beast.
All the crafts are topline in the film with the highly convincing Moorwen designed by Patrick Tatopolous and visual effects supervised by David Kuklish. Many scenes are subterranean and under water with Pierre Gill’s cinematography paying off handsomely.
Both the Viking period and the sci-fi stuff are handled well although not much is made of Kainan’s presumably advanced powers except for the ability to spend a long time underwater.
Caviezel knows by now how to play saviours, Huston has the family swagger and Hurt has a fine old time as the Viking king. Myles looks the part too even if her plummy English vowels and crisp consonants jar a bit but then again you’d be amazed if a daughter of John Hurt didn’t speak well.
Venue: Locarno International Film Festival Out of Competition; Cast: Jim Caviezel, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, John Hurt, Ron Perlman; Director, screenwriter: Howard McCain; Screenwriter, executive producer: Dirk Blackman; Producers: Christ Roberts, John Schimmel; Executive producers: Barrie Osborne, Don Carmody, Kia Jam, Christopher Eberts, Karen Loop; Director of photography: Pierre Gill; Production designer: David Hacki; Music: Geoff Zanelli; Costume designer: Debrah Hanson; Editor: David Dodson; Production: The Weinstein Company, Ascendant Pictures, Virtual Film; Sales: Wild Bunch; Not rated; running time, 115 minutes.
This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.