As mentioned in our recent review of Sputnik, the current crop of Russian-made sci-fi is something to marvel at and enjoy. Fitting neatly into that bracket is the newly released in the UK action romp, The Blackout: Invasion Earth, also known in some territories as The Blackout, or in its native Russian tongue as Avanpost (The Outpost). The film is the latest work from Egor Baranov, best known for his dark fantasy horror Gogol trilogy, although there’s a solid chance this will become the cult B-movie hit that makes his name in the West.

The titular blackout refers to a strange, globe-spanning catastrophe knocking out the power to the entire world, save for a circular zone encompassing a few hundred thousand miles of Eastern Europe. Not only has the rest of this near-future world been plunged into silent non-responsive darkness, but the few forays into the dark zone also reveal only death. Into this hellish scenario, the audience is thrown in with the motley crew of the aptly named military unit, Bro-1. Within this plucky team are the four main protagonists: thoughtful rich-boy soldier Oleg (Aleksey Chadov) and his medic lover Alyona (Lukerya Ilyashenko), contrasting with the ultra-pragmatist combat specialist, Yuriy (Pyotr Fyodorov) and the naïve press correspondent, Olya (Svetlana Ivanova). It’s through their eyes that the story unfolds, the strange events behind the apocalyptic scenario are uncovered, and the mystery behind the strange figure known only as Id (Artyom Tkachenko) is explained.

If that sounds just a little bit hokey, that’s because it is. But the joy of The Blackout is that it knows its audience and knows fine well that the people watching it have seen countless science fiction classics, as well a host of war films. The film visually and narratively digs deep into a pool that includes Aliens, Starship Troopers, Full Metal Jacket, and Black Hawk Down, even winking at the audience with a throwaway moment where Yuriy likens a piece of technical kit to being ‘like in the movie, Predator’. The film wants you to dive in and have fun with the premise, as the soldiers fret and banter with each other, all the while the genuinely intriguing (if ultimately a bit goofy) mystery slowly pays out.

But the film is an unashamed balls-to-the-wall action film, utilising the full co-operation of the Russian military to make sure that every soldier is kitted out with modern weapons and kit, and the screen is never less than littered with helicopters, background troops and innumerable Armoured Personnel Carriers chugging about. This makes a good contrast to the few scenes we see in central Moscow, where the Blade Runner-esque metropolis of bright lights and delivery drones zooming everywhere is charmingly and convincingly realised.

Originally this project had been envisioned as a TV series, and it’s fairly plain to see that from the final result. There are a surprising amount of side-characters, who never overwhelm the situation, but plainly would have had larger roles in an ongoing serialised version of this story. But it does give some parts of the film a hurried feel, as if we’re skipping past events and even moments we ought to be seeing play out. It’s a minor quibble in what is otherwise a surprisingly complete and satisfying action film. What is equally surprising is that considering the somewhat well-paced and largely complete-feeling story,  there is apparently a sequel already shot and released as a serialised TV show in the film’s motherland.

As to the characters, the interplay between the four protagonists is endearing and playful enough to pull you into the adventure and make you care whether they survive or not. There’s functionality to them, but each does still come across as believably normal and human. By the end of the film, you’re genuinely invested in them and in whether they’ll get through the ordeals. This is a point worth mentioning; this is a dark film, with a typically Russian disregard for human life, at points showing literally thousands of people being mercilessly slaughtered, by both sides of the conflict. It’s a refreshingly uncompromising take on such a story, and in contrast to the philosophical or pacifistic turns of recent alien encounter films, The Blackout is the cheeky little violent gem that maybe we all wanted.

Available now on DVD & Blu Ray