Invasion’s monstrous aliens are ready for their close-up [Apple TV+ review]

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Invasion review: Aneesha (played by Golshifteh Farahani) and her family face multiple monsters this week.
Aneesha (played by Golshifteh Farahani) and her family face multiple monsters this week.
Photo: Apple TV+

Invasion, the sprawling alien-invasion show on Apple TV+, thrusts all of its characters into a brand-new reality this week. There is no denying now that there are aliens on Earth … but what does that mean for everyone? What do the creatures want? And is all hope lost?

This week’s episode puts the focus on the Malik family — and gets us up close and personal with the dreadful threats the Maliks face.

Invasion review: ‘Home Invasion’

In this week’s episode, titled “Home Invasion,” Aneesha Malik (played by Golshifteh Farahani) has been in a daze since learning for sure that humans aren’t alone in the universe. Last week, she found herself press-ganged into service as a doctor. And, because of her limited experience in medical school and beyond, she faked it well enough. But on her way to the next destination in the Army convoy that picked her up, she snaps out of her trance and breaks out of the ambulance. She’s got to get to her kids ASAP.

After all, she left her husband Ahmed (Firas Nassar), son Luke (Azhy Robertson) and daughter Sarah (Tara Moayedi) in the arms of perfect strangers (Michael Harney and Kathryn Erbe) just a few hours ago. The sights that greet her as she walks the long way back to them are grisly indeed. Soldiers with their bodies knotted like pretzels, a dog charred up like the daily special at a strip-mall steakhouse….

By the time she gets there, the house is under siege by the extraterrestrials and everyone has taken refuge in the attic. There’s some question as to what they want, but panic has gripped everyone, understandably. It can’t be good, after all. As much as Aneesha tries to calm everyone down, the sounds below speak louder. (Incidentally, she says, “You’ve seen too many movies” to calm her host family down, at which I can only laugh. Oh, have they seen too many cliched movies, Simon Kinberg? Perhaps you could inspect this kettle if you have a second between writing X-Men movies.)

Uncorking aliens in a bottle episode

The whole episode consists of the Malik family trying to evade the aliens in every room of the big house, and boy oh boy is it terrific stuff. Invasion, as is not uncommon for Apple TV+ series and indeed much of modern television, knows that taking a detour can pay off better than always juggling your storylines. Think Mythic Quest doing its historical episodes and how much depth they bring to the main drama.

Director Amanda Marsalis (who helmed last week’s episode and also boasts Ozark, The Umbrella Academy and Westworld on her resume) makes the scenario truly nightmarish. The sounds and shadows with which the aliens announce themselves before putting in a more sustained appearance are rivetingly intense and awful. The monster design itself could have used a slightly more horrid face. But I do rather like that the creatures seem to just grow limbs whenever they’re needed for further dismemberment and stuff.

The scene where Erbe’s character is yanked through the attic insulation is genuinely horrible, the contorting of her body and the dreadful sound effects working in icky tandem. We’d seen what the aliens can do, but we hadn’t seen them do it yet — and this is quite the introduction.

Technically impressive, but awfully dark

On a technical level, this episode impresses pretty much on all counts. Max Richter’s theme sounds marvelous — its itchy, electronic beat amps up the tension. The photography by Armando Salas is too dark, but I get it, you have to keep the monsters in shadow for most of the episode until the big reveal in the final five minutes, but it does kind of make it hard to tell what’s going on at crucial junctures.

The sound design, a consistently great feature of Invasion, hits an all-time peak here, selling every creaking floorboard and splintering glass pane.

Plus, more strong performances

The performances also prove stupendous. Harney and Erbe get to throw a lot into their brief appearance on the show, making a suitable menace to counter the one outside. Aneesha and Ahmed are by now all too familiar with the greeting that anyone from the Middle East gets in rural America. (Indeed, they’ve already been accused implicitly of having been in on the alien invasion by their neighbors.) So, when they find themselves between a white man with a gun and several violent aliens, there isn’t a for sure great plan of attack for survival.

Farahani, as usual, wins MVP this week for her portrayal of Aneesha. Her shocked stupor convincingly nags at her even as she hustles to save her family. The highlight for me, though, is when the alien finally presents itself in the car and Aneesha has a full-on freak-out. It’s the kind of true terror many actors would shy away from on network TV, but Farahani goes all in.

Getting the best actors in the world rather than some beautiful kid of a famous person with a popular Instagram account can pay richer dividends than some people realize. Invasion has been quite engaging so far, but Farahani keeps pushing it past good into greatness. Now let’s see if the rest of the team can keep up.

Watch Invasion on Apple TV+

New episodes of Invasion arrive on Apple TV+ on Fridays.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.