Austin Film Festival 2016: “Brave New Jersey” review

“Brave New Jersey” is one of the more star-studded films in the Austin Film Festival lineup this year and it doesn’t disappoint. Director and writer Jody Lambert has said that it was surprising that this film had not been told before and I’m glad it hadn’t. It’s funny, dramatic, and a joy to watch.

The cast of "Brave New Jersey" at the Austin Film Festival premiere. / Photo by Parker Conley
The cast of “Brave New Jersey” at the Austin Film Festival premiere. / Photo by Parker Conley

The film follows a small town on the night of Orson Welles’s legendary, 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast — the hoax that terrified millions into believing Martians were invading America. As the citizens of one New Jersey town of Lullaby are faced with what they believe is their last night on Earth, their lives will change forever.  An alien invasion movie where the aliens never show up.

Tony Hale as Clark Hill / Photo by Corey Walter
Tony Hale as Clark Hill / Photo by Corey Walter

Tony Hale stars as Clark Hill, the mayor of the quiet nice town of Lullaby. Among their residents include Anna Camp as Peg (“Pitch Perfect”), Heather Burns as Lorraine Davison (“Miss Congeniality”), Dan Bakkedahl as Reverend Ray Rogers (“Life in Pieces”), Sam Jaeger as Paul Davison (“Parenthood”), Matt Oberg as Chardy Edwards (“Veep”).

The fact that this is an “indie” film, yet feels massive in scope, is a credit to the overall programming we’ve seen at Austin Film Festival. “Brave New Jersey” is among a great selection of original films and stories that are so refreshing to see in a time where we’re just one superhero film away from giving up on Hollywood to produce any original content.

This film manages to do just that by retelling a true part of history from a perspective that has not been told before. Why filmmakers never thought to tell the panic and hysteria of the people who actually believed Welles’ broadcast is beyond me and a lot of people. I’m so glad it fell into the hands of Jody Lambert. The direction of the film is superb and the locations, production design really make you feel like you’re in 1938 in the middle of nowhere.

The film needed to strike a balance that included feeling like 1938, yet also not falling into the trap of being over historical and too campy with the usual ‘30s gibberish we hear in some films. Luckily the writing and restraint that we see in the film is right on the line that we needed to not overshadow the true magic of the film, the ensemble cast. Everyone in this film, have their characters overturned when the end of the world is nigh.

Helen Ingebritsen as "Woman with Flashlight" in "Brave New Jersey" / Photo by Corey Walter
Helen Ingebritsen as “Woman with Flashlight” in “Brave New Jersey” /
Photo by Corey Walter

One of the great things about this film is that these caricatures of 1930s characters we’re used to seeing are just broken due to the circumstances surrounding the film. Camp is hilarious as Peg who becomes a total badass and leads the resistance against the Martians and gives in to those ‘30s repressed feelings when she knows she may not have a tomorrow.

In addition to Camp’s surprise breakout role in the film, the ensemble in the film is so spot on with their characters which make the journey they go on a joy to watch.

The music set to these characters running for their lives ready to attack in slow motion was brilliant! It really evoked so many things all at once, fear, hilarity, and freedom from their lives their used to living.  The profound thing about this film is that the characters are faced with having to look within themselves and decide what kind of person they are going to be amidst imminent danger and some man up, some back down, and some surprise even themselves.

 Photo by Corey Walter
Photo by Corey Walter

The film is not only entertaining, but will also make you think what kind of person you would be in the face of an alien invasion. So who will you be?

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