There is a new Geico commercial, wherein teenagers find a “smart” hiding place behind a barn of hanging chainsaws, that is more self-aware of horror clichés than Extraterrestrial, which just bathes in them. To be fair, though, this hybrid of the cabin-in-the-woods and alien-abduction subgenres is at least a strong advancement for the Canadian writing-directing team, known as The Vicious Brothers, in terms of production values. Back when Found Footage was still a little more novel and exciting than it is today, the filmmaking team made a cult hit out of their shoestring-budgeted 2011 found-footage-in-an-abandoned-mental-hospital pic, Grave Encounters (which even spawned a shameless sequel). Now for their sophomore effort, one of the “brothers,” Colin Minihan, directs a script both he and the other, Stuart Ortiz, wrote. Not to be confused with the quintessential E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial or even the 2012 Nacho Vigalondo-directed sci-fi comedy of the same name, Extraterrestrial is not even close to the advent of originality, but as unpretentious B-movies goes, it’s not that bad.
April (Brittany Allen) plans to make a trip to her parents’ old small-town cabin that’s just gone up for sale. Her boyfriend, Kyle (Freddie Stroma), plans to go with her, but he happened to invite a few friends, including reckless buddy Seth (Jesse Moss, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil) and his ditsy girlfriend Lex (Anja Savcic) and April’s best friend Mel (Melanie Papalia, The Den), along with her dog. Unbeknownst to these kids, the small town of Everywhere, U.S.A., in which the cabin happens to be, has been experiencing some farm animal mutilations and the disappearance of a woman (Emily Perkins, best known for Ginger Snaps). Right after Kyle tries proposing to April, who’s already made up her mind that she needs to do something for herself and take a job in N.Y.C., something falls out of the sky and blows up in the forest miles away from the cabin. For no other reason to have the story advance, this group of twenty-somethings decides to check out what appears to be a fallen spaceship and go back to the cabin, despite finding little footsteps in that direction.
Writer-director Colin Minihan and co-writer Stuart Ortiz showcase a relatively impressive scope, and there is a slick professionalism to their production of Extraterrestrial. When April finds herself aboard the spacecraft, the production design steps up to a level of strikingly gooey, modestly budgeted inspiration. When our characters have to open their mouths, though, the dialogue is clumsy and rarely smart, as someone will say the obvious, “There is someone in the house,” while another will finish with, “Yeah, or something.” Furthermore, only half of the characters’ fates actually matter. Seth is so aggressively obnoxious that the viewer will immediately hope he would get abducted within two minutes of opening his mouth. Then there’s Lex, a generically bubbleheaded type who’s actually the first one to suggest they leave, but then commits Inane Teenager Behavior in a Horror Movie. Otherwise, the three other kids are likable enough, and Brittany Allen, Freddie Stroma, and the charismatic Melanie Papalia at least make convincing characters out of the material. Gil Bellows is an authoritative presence as the no-nonsense Sheriff Murphy, and Michael Ironside, as April’s pot-growing old neighbor Travis, has a ball playing both a crazed Vietnam vet and a conspiracy theorist who gets to explain what the little green men want.
No more than a passable time-killer, Extraterrestrial could have been much more with a better script. The Vicious Brothers are generous with their jump scare moments, which are still more effective than the stick figures being sucked up into the light. For a low budget, the F/X are rather solid. There is an anal-probing joke by a disbelieving cop, so of course, it’s only fair that someone actually does get probed. The final scene is cribbed right from Night of the Living Dead, only with a mixture of sappy emotional manipulation and cruel back comedy; the uses of Peter Gabriel’s “Book of Love” and Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” become a rather wicked counterpoint though, and everything is capped off with an impressive tracking shot. Ultimately, it might be a spoiler if one still hasn’t sought it out, but this year’s Honeymoon handled alien-abduction in a less predictable, more imaginative and thoughtful manner.
Extraterrestrial premieres on video-on-demand platforms Friday, October 17th, and will open in select theaters November 21st.