Kids vs. Aliens Review – IGN

Kids vs. Aliens debuts in theaters, On Demand, and digital on Jan. 20, 2023.

Kids vs. Aliens is a midnighter disappointment because I adore co-writer and director Jason Eisener’s exploitation signatures, yet this Nickelodeon meets Troma horror-comedy is an energetic mess. Sure, it’s messy in a good way when practical effects erect extraterrestrial strongholds or melt flesh. Other times, it’s messy in a convoluted way as hyper-bouncy storytelling ping-pongs without structure or foundations. Maybe that won’t matter if you’re distracted by the hormonal teenagers raging unsupervised or the extraterrestrials with Freddy Krueger hands — I’m just stuck thinking about better do-it-yourselfer fantasy thrillers like Turbo Kid and Psycho Goreman that execute the formula with far superior poise.

There’s no hidden message behind Kids vs. Aliens — underage rascals must defend Earth (their family mansion) from otherworldly invaders. Samantha (Phoebe Rex) is the “responsible” older sister who lets a massive Halloween party happen while mom and dad jet set on another business trip. Gary (Dominic Mariche) is the imaginative younger brother who feels shunned by Samantha when she bails on filming scenes for Gary’s “road warriors versus dinosaur soldiers” epic feature debut. Eisener and screenwriting partner John Davies keep conflicts juvenile to sustain a tone of immaturity that pits peewees against interstellar creatures, stemming from Samantha and Gary’s in-flux relationship. Kids being kids, including Gary’s goofball age-appropriate friends (Asher Grayson as Jack and Ben Tector as Miles), plus Samantha’s new bad-influence crush Billy (Calem MacDonald).

The movie starts with Gary and his “actors” shooting a climactic battle sequence for his amateur backyard sci-fi actioner. Football pads are equipped with spikes, dinosaur masks are cheap rubber, and a wrestling ring showdown makes everything feel like a childhood playground comedy. Eisener strives to make horror fans feel like “kids” again, detaching from rationale and favoring creativity slathered in goopy “mystery liquid” gore. There’s a murderous whimsy to things that achieves said goal – driven by Gary’s NERF-soft hijinks — but also a scattershot sandbox vibe that doesn’t care about details, just spectacle moments.

Frustratingly, Kids vs. Aliens doesn’t gain momentum until the hilarious-but-enjoyable aliens in full-body costumes appear. Before that, Eisener relies on child actors and boilerplate teen comedy lessons that are rougher around the edges than sometimes tolerable. Billy’s so blatantly villainized as a heartless playboy as he convinces Samantha to throw the Halloween shindig of their lives — Kids vs. Aliens, to its detriment, reveals its hand from the opening minutes. Samantha’s coming-of-age flaws aren’t introspectively explosive, nor does Gary’s pint-sized crew play any more significantly than cute sidekicks, despite Eisener’s valiant attempt at authenticity by emboldening performances that express youthfully awkwardness.

Once the aliens emerge from watery depths (they crash landed, yadda yadda), Eisener unleashes budget-friendly chaos as he does so well. At its best, Kids vs. Aliens feels a kinship with Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s Deadstream or multiple directors throughout V/H/S/99 — that Astron-6, ‘80s-famous brand of practical effects “sloppiness” gone bananas. Eisener uses floating skull hideouts, stalagmite formations, molten or acidic liquid that can cause monstrous transformations, and whatever excessiveness enters his mind after a household of blacklight partiers flee for their lives. Samantha and Gary turn to fireworks and their courageous favorite wrestlers (in spirit) because that’s all these children can process — Kids vs. Aliens can be spiritedly entertaining in these glimpses, then vaporized in a flash.

It’s all about having a good time without particular merits and technical polish.

Even then, Eisener struggles to control Kids vs. Aliens as a mature take on adolescent dramas. There’s a Saturday Morning Cartoon aesthetic that works in brief spurts but needs to be fleshed out more to overshadow line deliveries that land with a thud or disinterest in plot filler material that pads storytelling until the good stuff. Where Psycho Goreman sucks viewers into the “protector from space” relationship between characters, Kids vs. Aliens finds no such significance. It’s all about having a good time without particular merits and technical polish — an approach the film fails to sustain.

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