The 5th Wave
dir J Blakeson
scr Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner
prd Tobey Maguire, Graham King, Matthew Plouffe, Lynn Harris
with Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Liev Schreiber, Maika Monroe, Zackary Arthur, Maria Bello, Ron Livingston, Tony Revolori, Nadji Jeter, Talitha Bateman, Maggie Siff
16/US Columbia 1h52
The 5th Wave
Taking on the Others: Roe and Moretz

robinson shreiber monroe
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The 5th Wave Yet another post-apocalyptic teen thriller kicks off a proposed series based on a trilogy of novels (by Rick Yancey). Fortunately, this is one of the sharper ones, with a vivid central character and a premise that feels properly rooted in the present day, albeit one in which aliens have invaded earth. It's also a well-made film that holds some promise for future chapters.

In rural Ohio, normal 16-year-old Cassie (Moretz) watches in horror as alien ships appear over the planet then slowly unfurl a series of waves that kill off most of humanity. When she gets separated from her little brother Sam (Arthur), she heads off to find him at a military base, where gung-ho Colonel Vosch (Schreiber) is assembling an army of children to fight the invaders. Along the way, Cassie is rescued and helped by hunky farmhand Evan (Roe) before discovering that her high school crush Ben (Robinson) is at the base with Sam.

Director Blakeson makes this premise unusually realistic, without tipping over into fantastical excesses. The alien presence is unsettling because it's mainly caught in the corner of the frame. So the truth seems intriguingly elusive, and no one is particularly trustworthy. This character complexity gives weight to the story's continual twists and revelations. And since everyone is flawed, even the darker, shiftier characters are easy to identify with, avoiding predictability while undermining the obvious plot points (such as the requisite romantic triangle).

Moretz is a bundle of energy as the resilient Cassie, a naturally gifted athlete who is so focussed on her goal that she kind of misses the big picture. Moretz's emotive presence makes her impulsive actions feel genuinely perilous. And she generates very different chemistry with the likeable Robinson and the beefy Roe, who are a bit undefined but have scope for further development. But the most enticing character is Monroe's Ringer, whose back story seems like it might be a great spin-off movie.

There's definitely the sense that this story has been patterned after The Hunger Games, with the reluctant-leader heroine and gang of child warriors, but the themes are distinctly different, exploring communal paranoia and the nature of humanity. Blakeson sometimes over-eggs the symbolism, such as the constant reminder of Sam's cuddly teddy bear. But for the most part he keeps things earthy and edgy, noting that the constant violence has essentially ended these characters' childhood. But it hasn't quite snuffed out their hope.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 21.Jan.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall