A lot of us have memories of spending summer at camp, but what would happen if alien invaders descended from the skies? What if the fate of the world was in your hands? These questions are answered in the new Netflix original, Rim of the World. Directed by McG (Terminator: Salvation, Charlie’s Angels) and penned by Zack Stenz (X-Men: First Class, The Flash, Thor), Rim Of The World centers on Alex (Jack Gore), a shy and insanely intelligent kid who is attending the summer camp of the same name; naturally, this is a recipe for disaster.
Alex suffers from a fear of heights which ultimately stems from the death of his father. As a result, he’s withdrawn and has resorted to learning more about science and pop culture than interacting with other kids. He is bullied by rich kid Dariush (Benjamin Flores Jr) at campy, who unlike Alex, is outspoken and confident. Alex also struggles to express his feelings for Zhen Zhen (Miya Cech), who doesn’t speak much but is very resourceful and cunning. While the other kids are busy canoeing and rappelling, Alex hides in the woods fiddling with his Rubik’s Cube and wishing he could just go home.
This all changes when an invading force from the stars strikes, cutting off communication with the world outside the camp and throwing the US into chaos. Having been given an encryption key by an astronaut who crash-landed near the camp, Alex, Dariush, Zhen Zhen, and mysterious loner Gabriel (Alessio Scalzotto) who they meet in the woods trek across California to get to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), with one of the invaders in hot pursuit.
Rim of the World has been compared to another Netflix original, Stranger Things, but apart from the general premise of kids on an adventure and callbacks to popular 80’s films, the two could not be more different. For starters, Rim of the World is set in the present day. In addition, Stenz says he penned the script back in 2016 before Things took pop culture by storm. More than that, the references to other films are far more subtle.
For example, the invader who hunts the kids possesses infrared vision like the Predator, but this is shown, rather than told, to the audience and is all the better for it. Another great call back happens while the kids are hiding from the creature in the camp kitchen. With each of them hiding, Dariush knocks over several utensils in a clever shout out to Jurassic Park as the creature stalks through the kitchen like a clever girl.
McG is no stranger to action-packed science fiction films, but here the action takes a backseat to character development as the kids undertake the journey to the JPL. This is due to Stenz’ stellar script, which slowly unspools more info about our main characters and their lives.
We see why Zhen Zhen is so quiet, why Dariush tends to be a motor mouth and Gabriel’s home life. When Gabriel and Dariush have a heated argument that ends with Gabriel getting punched in the nose, Dariush reveals that his father is going to jail and as a result, his comfortable lifestyle has been upended; he only acts brash and loud because he’s tied his identity to being rich. It’s a very revealing moment and adds more dimension to a character who up until that point I hated.
The character who gets the most development, obviously, is Alex. Not only does the audience learn more about what causes his shyness, but he learns to overcome said shyness and take charge when it comes to the key. When the kids finally get to JPL, the general coordinating the defense of Earth tells them to wait for help. Alex refuses, saying he made a promise to get the key to JPL and that he’s not leaving until he can help out. It’s a far cry from the beginning of the film, where he struggled to talk with others. He also conquers his fear of heights while realigning a satellite dish.
When the action does happen, it’s unexpected and chaotic. One scene, which takes place on a bus, is shot from the characters’ point of view as an invader ship attacks the military convoy escorting them. Glass shatters and the camera shakes, and the audience’s heart will skip a beat or several. Alex and his friends aren’t the Avengers or the Rebel Alliance. They’re just teenagers who not only have to deal with the pitfalls of adolescence, but the impending apocalypse, and I find that endearing.
If you’re a fan of films like Stand By Me, Independence Day, ET, or The Goonies, you will love Rim of the World. It’s a funny, character-driven film and a throwback to the sci-fi films that helped shape pop culture.
Rim of the World is now streaming on Netflix.
Rim of the World
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.