2014 - 101 minutes
Directed by: Colin Minihan
Written by: Colin Minihan, Stuart Ortiz
Starring: Brittany Allen, Freddie Stroma, Jesse Moss, Melanie Papalia, Gil Bellows, Michael Ironside, Anja Savcic, Emily Perkins, Sean Rogerson
These days, it’s rare for movie aliens to invade the planet for something other than global decimation and/or takeover. It’s also rare for the popular horror combination of a group of teenagers and a cabin to pay off in ways that don’t involve facing off with an Earthbound or demonic terror. Extraterrestrial takes a fresh approach in combining old-fashioned, curious, probing, grey aliens with that horror setup. While it’s an interesting take, filmmaking team The Vicious Brothers – director Colin Minihan and his co-writer Stuart Ortiz – can’t keep the material from feeling imitative rather than wholly imaginative. That said, it’s competently constructed corniness.
In the wake of her parents’ divorce, April (Brittany Allen) is tasked with taking pictures of the family cabin and prepping it for sale. She hopes to get some R-and-R with boyfriend Kyle (Freddie Stroma) in the secluded locale, but he alters the plan an invites some central casting archetypes along. There’s hard-partying jerk Seth (Jess Moss), his sexpot girlfriend Lex (Anja Savcic), and April’s best friend Melanie (Melanie Papalia), all of whom threaten April’s peace. But they aren’t nearly as intrusive as the little grey men wreaking havoc in the area. When a UFO crashes in the woods, the group (and their trusty dog, or course) is targeted by the space invaders and the struggle for survival is on.
Seemingly setting the stage for satire, but intent on delivering meaningful shocks, Extraterrestrial is stuck in a middle ground that belies the meant-to-be- extreme content. Stereotypical characters suggest pokes at convention may be coming, but The Vicious Brothers play it straight, mining Seth’s jerkiness and April and Kyle’s relationship without irony. Supporting players also showcase incongruence in tone. Michael Ironside’s woods-dwelling, pot-growing, conspiracy theorist is out of step with Gil Bellows’ stoic and emotionally wounded sheriff. It’s not clear if we’re supposed to accept Ironside’s theory about the aliens as fact or laugh it off, or if the sheriff is supposed to be a moral core or a symbol of helplessness in the face of an advanced foe.
Despite the inconsistencies, the film does offer some stimulating twists on familiar genre beats. One of the aliens acts an awful lot like a masked killer, stalking the outside of the cabin and coming back for more scares after he (she?) is believed dead. There’s even a, “But he was right here!” exclamation from Allen. The invaders also seem to be conveniently stupid when necessary, having the ability to master space travel but becoming flummoxed by boards over windows and bookcases in front of doors.
When one character gets their comeuppance, it’s catharsis by way of popular alien abduction narrative cliché, which, it appears, is just an elaborate way to kill somebody and not really study them. That moment is an example of Extraterrestrial’s consistently strange mix of sarcasm and dread that never fully delights or disturbs. Miniahn and Ortiz want to go dark in the second half, when viscous black alien goo is slathered about, a distraught abduction survivor is found, and multiple suicides occur with little context. Filled with curious characterizations and imprecise ambiance, Extraterrestrial sporadically entertains but never completely pulls us in. And it completely detaches in a conclusion that is meant to be lyrical, but comes off as crude.