It's SIFF season on Slog, baby! Seattle's favorite film fest returns this month with 262 films over 11 days (April 14–24), screening in-person and online. We're rounding up some of our top picks to celebrate. You can check out all of them here and see what's up this week at the fest over here.
Vietnam, 2022, 105 minutes, Director Ham Tran
A mild-mannered alien-pal movie, Maika is billed as the first sci-fi movie for kids from Vietnam. Though it’s clearly drawing heavy inspiration from E.T., the feel is more like the first season of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Cartoonish goofy slapstick, broadly-drawn character tropes, and serviceable child acting lends a distinct direct-to-video vibe. But that may not be a barrier for young viewers who either speak Vietnamese or don’t mind reading subtitles.
Our hero is eight-year-old Hùng, whose mother has recently passed away and left behind a doing-my-best widower dad who struggles to support his son both emotionally and financially. Following a prayer to his mother, Hùng meets a wide-eyed crash-landed alien girl named Maika, who has come to Earth bearing a phone-home plot device. Meanwhile, a greedy and evil tech oligarch is hot on the trail of alien technology, and a beautiful and kindly neighbor who harbors warm feelings for the dad seeks some way to aid the struggling family.
It’s hard not to predict how these deeply familiar plot threads will resolve in the paint-by-numbers story. There is precisely one (1) surprise in Maika, a momentary sight-gag involving a falling dagger that is so violently out-of-place in the otherwise cartoonish mayhem that it made me gasp out loud. I would very much like to be in a theater to hear an audience’s reaction to that moment; I don’t feel a burning need to be present for the rest of it.
Maika screens at SIFF Cinema Egyptian on Saturday, April 23 at 11:00 am.