Russian movies rarely reach mainstream audiences in the U.S., but 2017 could be a breakthrough year. The Russian superhero movie Guardians is slated for release in September, and if there’s any justice, Attraction will follow.
Attraction is the Russian answer to Independence Day or Attack the Block, an alien invasion story with a positive social message and plenty of crowd-pleasing action sequences. It shares similar themes with Arrival—the struggle to avoid militaristic paranoia when encountering aliens—but with a much more blockbuster-y tone.
Irina Starshenbaum stars as the angry teen heroine, Yulia, whose neighborhood is destroyed when a spaceship crashes in the middle of Moscow. The government quickly imposes martial law, tapping into Yulia’s conflicted relationship with her dad, the colonel in charge of evacuating the nearby apartment blocks. He wants the military to be cautious, while Yulia and her boyfriend Artyom (Alexander Petrov) see the alien ship as an invading force, and plan to sneak into the evacuation zone themselves.
Yulia finds and captures an alien who ventures outside the ship, at which point the story takes a different turn. As Yulia gets to know the alien, she realizes he isn’t dangerous after all, and is basically helpless until his spaceship repairs itself. Meanwhile, Artyom and his friends become increasingly angry about the government’s unwillingness to attack the ship, eventually sparking a riot.
It’s a well-executed but familiar kind of blockbuster, complete with a dubstep soundtrack during the bigger action scenes. There are a couple of stand-out elements, though. The first is Yulia’s relationship with Artyom, which is a lot more complex than you’d expect from a Roland Emmerich-style disaster movie—especially since these films rarely have female leads.
Artyom is in his 20s, a sexy but disreputable guy who hangs out in a local garage with his friends, all of whom are fueled by pent-up macho aggression. He’s a thoroughly plausible love interest for a rebellious teen girl, but he’s also clearly bad news. He doesn’t respect Yulia as an equal, and when the going gets tough, he’s more interested in starting fights than finding peaceful resolution to the rising tensions in their neighborhood. That’s where the second surprising detail comes in: Attraction includes straightforward depictions of police brutality.
The film was supposedly inspired by the 2013 Moscow riots, which happened in response to the murder of a young Russian man. Locals blamed his death on a Muslim migrant, spurring racist backlash across the city. This scenario has played out in several European countries in the past few years, and Artyom is the archetypal avatar of that backlash: a working-class white man with a sense of fierce pride in the Motherland, expressing violent rage toward outsiders. Yet the government forces are equally to blame for the chaos. During the riot scenes, the police beat civilians and chase them down on horseback, a noticeable cultural difference to Hollywood expectations. You see plenty of corrupt cops and incompetent detectives in crime dramas, but it’s hard to imagine this kind of police brutality in a mainstream American popcorn movie.
Attraction isn’t groundbreaking in the context of films like Independence Day or Godzilla, but that’s kind of the point. If it gets U.S. distribution before the DVD comes out—which it probably will, since it’s already screening everywhere else—then it will remind U.S. audiences that foreign-language cinema is just as accessible as Hollywood.
Editor’s Note: This review was filed from the Edinburgh Film Festival, where Attraction premieres this week.