Rating: * * * *
Verdict: Just when you thought the scariest thing about Auckland was the traffic ...
It's amusing to note that after his feature debut Black Sheep, which was sort of a Peter Jackson cover version, that Jonathan King's second film ends up with two plucky heroes dodging a hideously disfigured creature to chuck something precious into a volcano.
Only the cone this time is Rangitoto. And the only comparison this captivatingly creepy flick risks is with the much-loved previous (small) screen adaptation of Maurice Gee's kids' fantasy about young twins vs aliens hiding out in Auckland's cratered geology.
That telly series did for a certain age bracket what Dr Who's Daleks managed a decade earlier. But today's young Harry Potter-ites require something stronger to get them scared. They need ...(cue scary strings from a soundtrack very big on them) ... Oliver Driver!
Having made him the sheepmonster of his previous film, here King has cast him - quite literally, given the amount of facial latex - as Mr Wilberforce, the highly imposing creep-in-charge. And the movie heads somewhere neatly dark and disturbing every time he's on screen, especially in a scene where he's posing as a door-knocking policeman.
And that's the good thing about this UTM - it might be a retelling of a familiar tale and deliberately teen-aimed, but it still generates a very real sense of dread and peril as twins Theo and Rachel (and mentor Mr Jones) go up against the Wilberforces around and under Auckland.
The film does come with some irritations. Neill's Mr Jones is perpetually earnest, though he is an ancient alien who has seen the end of his world and has seemingly been stuck in Auckland since, so coming across as Dr Who's grumpy uncle is to be expected.
While the time given over to the twins' older cousin Ricky and his hormonal frustrations seems a bit pandering to its market. But his driver's licence and Datsun 120Y sure come in handy.
Screen newcomers Cameron and McBride put in solid turns as the twins, who we first meet in the wake of a family tragedy. With Theo emotionally withdrawn and Rachel needing his support, they are sent to a relatives' house on the edge of Lake Pupuke, a few doors down from the ramshackle Wilberforce mansion, and to which they are inevitably drawn.
Meanwhile, Mr Jones has got in touch, tells them their telepathic "twin-ness" is the only thing that will vanquish the monsters and restore North Shore property prices to their rightful state.
That involves plenty of just-in-time subterranean scurrying (proof that tunnels could help the city's transit system), Mr Jones showing his talent for spontaneous combustion and Driver memorably barking "make 'em dead' at his gooey grey-skinned sidekicks who, to look at them, don't exactly seem like the planet-conquering types.
But all that helps make for an exciting, fantasy adventure. One that might aim young but which doesn't stop it succeeding in its ambitions of making Auckland feel like alien territory. May the Wilberforce be with you.
Cast: Sam Neill, Oliver Driver, Sophie McBride, Tom Cameron.
Director: Jonathan King
Rating: M (supernatural themes)
Running time: 90 mins
Rating: * * * *