Those pesky kids and their cabins in the woods. If it is not a chainsaw-wielding murderer or demon from the fruit cellar, then it’s a gun-toting nut down the lake or little green men from another world. In Extraterrestrial, it’s both. Sadly, this tired joke is all that this indie alien horror has to go on beyond some admittedly impressive visual wizardry when it comes to a new kind of E.T. and his decidedly less friendly glowing finger.
To be sure, Extraterrestrial is an achievement in a technical sense, proving that relying on mostly in-camera effects and practical scares has more jumps per capita than a CGI invasion quadruple its budgetary size. So, when those bright lights beam down on these haplessly dim protagonists with a shade of crimson, and the ominous horns screech across the sound mix like the herald of an apocalypse, there is something approximating genuine creep-out suspense in this intergalactic slasher. But it’s all for inevitable frustration with these adolescent cattle, who gawk wide-eyed at their own doom like the probe-victims in waiting that they are. The movie’s half-hearted reach for a comedic underpinning ultimately undermines everything else on screen.
Directed and written by Colin Minihan and Stu Ortiz, also known as the Vicious Brothers, Extraterrestrial recounts what happens when five college-ish friends go to a cabin on the outskirts of society, and where many a strange disappearances have occurred. Unfortunately, despite its nearly two-hour running time, I couldn’t tell you a lick about any of them other than they are played by Brittany Allen of Defiance, Freddie Stroma, Melanie Papalia, Jesse Moss, and Anja Savcic. Sure, Allen’s April is in a relationship with Stroma’s Kyle, and they’re arguing over whether they’re going to get married, but when the movie treats them as meat for the grinder, why should we get invested in naming the damned?
This is not to say that a horror movie that knows and revels in its B-conventions is something to sneer at. In fact, many of the best slashers and gross out gorefests makes no bones about trivializing Ashley Williams’ hopes and dreams prior to him earning a chainsaw hand, nor do they bother explaining why these five kids were picked for ritualized sacrifice to horror movie gods. The thing is that those subversions were either funny, scary, or both. Extraterrestrial is none of these things while we wait for the aliens to come down and make flank steak out of them.
The one exception to this critique is Michael Ironside who has a delirious cameo as the aforementioned gun-toting nut that knows all about the U.S. government’s hackneyed deal with aliens—they abduct as many citizens as they want as long as the Feds can still pretend they’re running the planet—and he would love nothing more than to break it by putting one of those gray fellows in the earthbound dirt, permanently. It is also unlikely that the screenplay is to thank for this humor; as opposed to the rest of the movie’s blank slate performers, Ironside’s ability to satirize whatever surroundings is providing his latest paycheck this week is legendary, and he leaves no cardboard wall unchewed here. The result is a meager subplot that could have been the whole film. Imagine Alex Jones versus these H.G. Wells bad guys! That would be something to see instead of this passing punch line that is thrown away in favor of “teens” being sucked into the air one at a time.
There is still likely an audience for Extraterrestrial that will appreciate the visual cues and campy tone toward the whole proceedings. However, this is still one horror movie that truly belongs out of this world…and as far away from any movie screen as possible.
***This review was first published on April 23, 2014.