The low-budget siege thriller Bushwick packs a lot of fast paced action, great performances, and social commentary into a modest package. Built around a twist at the halfway point that’s easily spoiled in other reviews and pieces about the movie, but is actually too great to divulge, Bushwick hits like a punch to the gut not just because of its relentless pacing and suspense, but also because recent events have made the film’s “outlandish” high concept into something eerily prescient.

Lucy (Brittany Snow) is a graduate student heading home to the titular Brooklyn neighbourhood she was raised in to visit her grandmother. As soon as she steps off the subway, she walks out of the station and into the middle of an active combat zone. A mysterious militia or army of some sort has laid siege to the city. Ducking sniper fire, staying out of sight of masked soldiers, steering clear of looters, and trying not to get blown up, Lucy finds safety in the basement of a former Marine, Stupe (Dave Bautista), who’s about to leave for Hoboken to make sure his wife and kid are safe. Reluctantly and eventually without much choice, Stupe agrees to help Lucy make her way to grandma’s house, rescue her drug addled sister (Angelic Zambrana), and arrive at the demilitarized zone where the U.S. government is evacuating civilians.

Directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott (who previously teamed up for the underrated horror comedy Cooties) get Bushwick off to such a fast start that the audience doesn’t have much time to ask any pressing logical questions about the plot dynamics. All the viewer needs to know is that all hell is breaking out around Lucy and survival will prove difficult. The script from Nick Damici (Cold in July, Stake Land) and Graham Reznick (both working from a story credited to Murnion and Milott) wisely sets Bushwick’s action over several blocks instead of crafting a city spanning adventure to both generate a claustrophobic sense of suspense and to keep the budget of such a story to manageable levels.

Murnion and Milott understand that not every atrocity needs to be seen by the camera to make a huge impact. Working in long takes that are always closely following Lucy or Stupe, Murnion and Milott make sure that their heroes are in a constant state of action or readiness, with most of the chaos relegated to sound effects or corners of the frame. Unlike many characters in these types of film, they’re trying to stay out of harm’s way rather than stopping to take a look at what’s happening. The story set up might be a tad unrealistic (especially when one wonders how Lucy was able to even make her way to the city and remain oblivious the whole trip there if things were this awful), but the action is handled in the most realistic way possible, and it’s always well choreographed and intensely captured.

Snow makes for a bright and capable heroine who comes into her own the longer she’s asked to be strong and help those around her, but it’s Bautista who impresses the most here. Further showcasing the amount of acting chops that the former wrestler possesses, Bautista portrays Stupe not as someone deliberately standoffish, but rather as a person who has kept a lot of grief bottled up for far too long. There’s a great sadness and tenderness to his work in Bushwick, and the film’s best scene doesn’t involve any explosions, shootouts, or brawls. It’s a simple moment where an exhausted Lucy and Stupe take shelter in a laundromat and talk about everything that led them to this point in time. Bushwick might prove to be the most convincing case yet for Bautista’s talent.

The big reveal of the invading forces taking over the city changes the dynamic of Bushwick drastically, and despite being filmed at the end of the Obama presidency, it becomes a sad, almost painful commentary on where the United States is headed under Donald Trump. This means that the twist will likely divide viewers based on where their political allegiances lie. I think it’s outstanding. It was the overall conclusion of the film that I balked at somewhat, but not enough to sour my feelings on the film as a whole. For a large scale military invasion picture in the vein of The Siege or Red Dawn made on a shoestring budget, Bushwick delivers more than expected.

Is Bushwick essential viewing?

Yes. It’s thrilling, unassuming, and well made enough to warrant a watch.

Bushwick opens Friday, August 25, 2017 at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas and Cineplex Winston Churchill. Check their website for more information. It’s also available on iTunes the same day.

Bushwick Trailer