No need to stalk ‘Screamers: The Hunting’

September 30, 2012

I’ve not seen the 1995 film Screamers, but apparently it’s considered a minor classic of the science fiction/horror genre. Based on a Philip K. Dick story, “Second Variety,” it is set on the planet Sirius 6B, where killer robots designed to help one side vanquish its foes are now targeting all humans.

The 2009 sequel, Screamers: The Hunting, was apparently released direct to video; I watched it the other night. Directed by Sheldon Wilson and written by Tom Berry and Miguel Tejada-Flores, it is an acceptable but hardly wonderful B-movie.

The plot is set in motion when a human transmits a distress signal, leading to the dispatch of a seven-person crew aboard the Alliance Central ship Medusa. Their mission: Find and rescue any remaining humans on the planet, which was abandoned years ago and was thought to be lifeless.

Commander Sexton and his team are operating on a strict timeline. Six days from the time they land, some kind of space storm will wipe out all life on Sirius 6B. (The wonderful SF/horror/fantasy movie review site moria.co.nz describes the phenomenon as a Magellanic storm, although I never seemed to hear the term clearly.)

Things start going badly when the team first contacts the screamers — so named because of the terrifying noises some models emit; two crew members are soon killed. Worse yet, a screamer has entered the ship and drained its power supply, stranding it on the planet unless the team can locate more fuel cells. (Oddly, no thought ever seems to be given to discovering how the screamer boarded Medusa or determining whether it is still aboard.)

Having discovered a dormant screamers factory and made an unsuccessful attempt to parlay with a band of human survivors, the team returns to where they had seen the humans. The competent Lt. Victoria Burke (Gina Holden) convinces a paranoid woman named Hannah to lead the group into the settlement. There, a survivor named Guy slices open Burke’s hand and tastes her blood in order to verify her humanity. Screamers, you see, now emulate people…

The situation moves from bad to worse as Burke and her crewmates discover secret captives in the humans’ hideout. They later encounter another survivor, played by genre legend Lance Henriksen (the android Bishop from the Alien movies as well as the protagonist of the Millennium TV series), who could hold the key to escaping the approaching space storm.

Unfortunately, the early scenes aren’t very effective at building suspense. The script is at its best inside the secret human settlement, where it develops the paranoid threads that underlie so much of the best of Philip K. Dick’s writing; it maintains the paranoia in some of the subsequent scenes. Yet the screenplay doesn’t have much of interest to say about the nature of reality, what determines humanity or our species’ propensity toward conflict.

The acting here is generally competent, with Holden mostly shining as the seemingly most level-headed character. But most of the characters seem rather silly; I for one would not trust the Medusa’s commander to operate a space toaster, let alone to lead a vital mission to a planet that was once infested by deadly robots. (See also my previous complaints about the screamer that boarded Medusa.) A few also seem interchangeable; it took me a long time to distinguish among some of the white male crew members.

Screamers: The Hunting features a few decent gory scenes — which I write as someone who generally does not enjoy horror or slasher films — and the special effects are pretty serviceable. The props and sets generally look fine, but unfortunately the crew’s ridiculous-looking soldier helmets do a lot to undermine the movie even though they only appear in a few scenes.

Long story short: Only hardcore science fiction and horror fans need seek out this mediocre movie. Most other movie viewers will do just as well to skip it.

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