Grad student Lucy (Brittany Snow) takes a break from a civil engineering course and comes back to her old neighbourhood of Bushwick, in Brooklyn, NY. Disorientingly, a burning man staggers through the subway station – and she realises some sort of violent incident is in progress. For a while, it seems most likely that there’s an outbreak of rioting and looting – and she’s attacked in a flophouse by a couple of local thugs, then rescued by janitor Stupe (Dave Bautista), an ex-Marine who’s seen too much of this sort of thing overseas and just wants to get out of the warzone and home to his family in Hoboken. The situation gets more complex as Lucy and Stupe, who form a bond in the middle of the carnage, realise that the neighbourhood is being invaded by black-clad troops with blank black helmets like the psycho of My Bloody Valentine.
Lucy’s beloved grandmother has died of a heart attack, a local store-owner has been killed by looters, and helicopters are crashing … but Lucy’s stoner sister Belinda (Angelic Zambrana) just thinks her neighbours are playing Call of Duty too loud, until a goon crashes into her apartment and tussles with Stupe. When the helmet comes off, the invader turns out to be a respectful Kentuckian (Alex Breaux) who explains that the strike and occupation is supposed to persuade Congress to ratify the secession of Texas and other red states from the Union. The inspiration for this is a rumour that Governor Rick Perry considered declaring Texas independent when Obama was elected … though, with the changes in America since then, the fracture seems all the more relevant, and the vision of a country torn apart while a neighbourhood comes together has a certain piquancy. Especially credible is the secesh’s reasons for picking Bushwick – those famous tight NYC gun laws and an ethnodiversity which means a disparate populace are unlikely to cooperate to resist – and also the fact that both assumptions prove wildly inaccurate as gangbangers’ stashes of weapons hit the streets and locals arm themselves with scavenged weaponry and baseball bats to resist the goons. In a tiny moment, we see a group of Hassidic Jews fighting back as goose-steppers show up in Brooklyn … though the neighbourhood solidarity arises from desperation and isn’t idealised in the least.
Scripted by Nick Damici (with some echoes of his work on Mulberry Street) and Graham Reznick (also the great sound designer) and directed by Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott (Cooties), this is built around good, mostly understated work from the oddly-matched leads – Snow is from the remakes of Prom Night and Hairspray and the Pitch Perfect films and Bautista is the wrestler who showed a lot of personality as Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies – and a lot of subtly cut-together Children of Men-style long takes of Lucy walking through peril in buildings full of threats or on smoky streets where improvised resistance tactics are leading to a lot of carnage. It’s a low-budget affair, with some blotchy CGI tweaks and the occasional awkward patch of chat (the running joke about Hoboken pays off with a speech you’ll see coming) or howling despair. This is a film where all plans go awry and panicky allies are as dangerous as the enemy – the uniforms are black rather than white, but there’s a touch of George Romero’s The Crazies in the vision of America at war with itself and a bit of Banlieu 13 in the multi-ethnic chaotic urban action enclave within an implied dystopia. It’s exciting to the point of being gruelling, with a splendidly-staged climax in a park as Bushwickites have to fight through a picket of secessionists to get to the rescue helicopters.