What’s it About?
A group of friends on a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods find themselves terrorized by alien visitors.
Directed by Colin Minihan
Director Colin Minihan, who brought us the capable found footage thriller, “Grave Encounters,” (as The Vicious Brothers) once again delivers a modest, if a bit formulaic thriller, in “Extraterrestrial.” It may be intentional, somewhat, in order to try and cash in on both the FF genre again and to reel in fans of movies like “The Cabin in the Woods.” Despite a recent shortage and output of good movies about bad ET’s, (the last being the decent “Dark Skies”) I was ready to dispel and lower my expectations for Minihan’s film.
It will be clearly debated as to what Minihan wants to deliver in his latest film. The film’s set up is tonally much different than the second and third act as Minihan hits all of the predictable marks with both his characters and story. But, I commend his effort in spinning a tale where the antogonists are a bunch of really mean ET’s that have come to do to us, just about every kind of evil violation we can think of. And they do it without huge spaceships blowing up and obliterating major cities. The movie works, instead, like some kind of evil ET slasher film.
The movie is enthusiastic at least and we get the good ole hyperbole and personification during the beginning. Young April (Brittany Allen of All My Children), a talented photographer, has plans for the weekend with her longtime boyfriend Kyle (Freddie Stroma). She is put upon to start preparing her family country cabin for sale. Her estranged Father, is emotionally unprepared for the task. She antcipates a quiet and rather sedate getaway but Kyle has other plans. As soon as they are prepped to go, Minihan begins using rote and almost satirical cliches.
The first being, the inclusion of another contrasting couple, who are totally diametric of Kyle and April. Kyle’s buddy, Seth (Jess Moss) is the stereotypical party guy that is equally distasteful and vociferous. He’s boorish, loud and obviously the sex crazed dude that is always brought along for the weekend in just about every one of these type of films. Also, Seth brings his more calm and clear-headed girlfriend, Lex, played by Anya Savcic. While not so happy about Kyle bringing his entourage, April tries to make the best of the situation but nearby, in town, there is something going seriously awry. There has been an incident that involves a family out camping, an abduction of a surviving young woman named Nancy (Emily Perkins of Ginger Snaps), and the eventual investigation of said abduction by the Sheriff.
It appears that Sheriff Murphy (Gil Bellows of “Parkland”) is not actually such a disbeliever of the strange UFO related incidents as he may have an emotional stake in what may be happening. Things back at the cabin also go awry between Kyle and April as April has a bomb dropped on her by her boyfriend. As things progress, the gang runs afoul of a very creepy looking ET with a singular purpose. When April actually shoots and maims one of the ET’s , then the rest of the film is relegated into becoming a survival thriller.
Minihan’s movie may seem a bit more witty and jocular than it really has any right to be and when going through the motions, we get winks and nods to various movies but never feel that Minihan wants “Extraterrestrial” to have it’s own identity and purpose…at least not right away. During the gang’s “survival mode,” we get the obligatory running, chasing and escaping sequences that are done pretty well but always teetering on some kind of self parody. But when Minihan and his cast get tired of trying to be humorous and get serious then the film picks up a bit.
Minihan’s obvious respect for the “Alien Mythology,” from “The X-Files” is present, prolific and evident. In more than one sequence, we are reminded of the ingenuity of the show and of how much of an influence it still has, so many years later. The film hits a high note, though, with the great photography from DP Samy Inayeh, who shot the beautiful looking “The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh.” Inayeh, using a Red Epic with Hawk anamorphic lenses, really uses bold color, compostion and creepy framing to put us right into the situations our protagonists are trapped in. Kudos to his exciting work placing the other-worldly bad guys in a very unique light.
When the group accidently falls upon the pot smoking, pot growing conspiracy enthusiast and Vet, named Travis (Michael Ironside), the movie onces again picks up a notch and Ironside ‘s clout and rep bring some respectability to Minihan’s movie. His turn in the film is smart, honest and Ironside completely commands the scenes he is in and does it well. He could have easily been any few dozen of characters out of the The X Files and dropped right into the plot of this film. His engaging explanation of what is happening is right out of the brain of Chris Carter. Ironside, hands down, is one of the strong parts of the movie.
So, I need to talk about the ending. It will piss many off and leave some scratching their heads. Upon intially watching it, I did the same but it is indeed unconventional, uncompromising and self assured. It smacks of something George A. Romero would have done in the early days. After all of the survival mayhem, chasing and alien / spaceship shenanigans, the finale is a wake up call and almost feels like a punch in the gut. I’m not sure if I still like it but it was effective and it provoked me which I feel adds a good quality to the movie. While it may appear to take a more pretentious route with the end, the movie may be over-reaching a bit and not really trying to make a statement.
“Extraterrestrial” is not re-inventing the wheel and not going to win any awards but it is humorous, and thrilling with that old school charm and ability. The movie gets hardcore by the second and third act and even though the cliches and familiar machinations may get tiresome, the movie is not a total time waster because it is a good looking flick and has Ironside in it to enjoy.
So, for a quick “bad alien chasing kids around in the woods” kind of flick, you can do much much worse than “Extraterrestrial.” Consider a rental before purchasing or buy used or at a wallet light price.