It was in Tim Burton’s biopic Ed Wood that while trying to secure finance for his latest flop the notorious B-movie director stated that horror and science fiction are two of the most commercially viable movie genres, and it has often been suggested that while nobody will see a comedy which is not funny that fans of horror and science fiction, perhaps more naturally open minded in their interests or possibly just desperate to get their fix, will tolerate what can only be described as a lower quality threshold.
Thus we come to Extraterrestrial, directed by Colin Minihan from a script credited to the Vicious Brothers (Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, the team previously responsible for Grave Encounters and Grave Encounters 2), a film which begins promisingly and certainly with a technical competence which lasts all of fifteen minutes before running aground on the rocks of what some might kindly call “homage,” but is in fact little more than a shameless pick-and-mix of scenes from infinitely superior genre classics.
It starts with a woman running in the rain, crying for help; the clerk at the gas store (Mon Ami‘s Mike Kovac, still not an ancient Mesopotamian scribe) has already locked the door, done for the night. She runs to the phone booth, dials for help, unable to make herself understood, so hysterical she is. The operator tries to calm her, ascertain her location, when the light comes down from the sky, and the booth begins to shake and vanishes, taking Nancy with it.
Her parent having split up, April (Dead Before Dawn‘s Brittany Allen) has been asked by her mother to take photographs of their summer cabin before it is sold, a move her father sees as calculated to spite him. Having planned a romantic escape with boyfriend Kyle (Quidditch wrangler Freddie Stroma of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) during which she will break the news to him that she’s had a career offer which will require her to relocate to New York in three months, he’s also avoided telling her that he has invited some friends along with them for what he thought would be a weekend getaway.
Even before arriving at the cabin in the woods, Seth (Tucker and Dale vs Evil‘s Jesse Moss) manages to irk the local sherriff and things do not improve. Their dog, Dusty, runs off onto the neighbouring property which conceals a cannabis farm, and Kyle unexpectedly proposes to April, a turn she was unprepared for while dealing with the aftermath of her own parent’s divorce, and to make matters worse all of Kyle’s friends knew his plans and had been expecting to celebrate the engagement.
As night falls, Kyle and April continue to argue over whether they have a future, April’s viewpoint coloured by witnessing the slow collapse of her own family. “At the end of the day we’re all alone in the universe,” she says, just as a burning object tears across the sky above them and crashes in the woods. They explore, and find what appears to be a crashed flying saucer.
It is not the fault of the actors, many of whom try their best with what they have been given; Moss in particular seems to have been directed to be an amalgamation of the most obnoxious, vulgar, selfish, tiresome, unhelpful and ignorant characters from every found footage film ever made to the point where he actually believes he is in a found footage film himself, obsessively recording for posterity. The sole benefit of this is that after each interlude from his iPhone point of view, by comparison the rest of the film looks remarkably professional.
After the discovery in the woods, the film alternates between the stock scenarios of running through the woods or returning to the cabin to hide in the shadows, a paranoid introductory course to alien abduction, Fire in the Sky for the You Tube generation, the sole moment of inspiration being the genuine unease of the partitioned rainstorm.
Genre stalwart Michael Ironside (neighbourhood drug cultivator Travis) at least seems to be enjoying himself as he recounts the mythology of The X Files, that the US government have had a treaty with the aliens since Roswell. “There is one cardinal rule: do not engage. And you engaged. You broke the treaty. You shot one of them, now they’re out for blood.” What is not explained is why such an advanced species would invest so much energy travelling the galaxy to hide in shadows and eat raw dog meat.
While Gil Bellows’ Sheriff Murphy is more engaged than his somnambulist performance in Ascension, instead he suffers from amnesia; having seen footage of two alien abductions and spoken to a witness whose son was taken, when he and Deputy Mitchell (Sean Rogerson, fighting Moss for the title of most annoying character in a motion picture) arrive at the cabin he seems to have lost all memory of this fact, as have Kyle and April forgotten that they have video of the crashed spaceship to backup their statements.
With the majority of the second half of the film conducted by torchlight or glowstick, explosions are substituted for plot and cliché in lieu of character (trapped in the basement, Mel (Melanie Papalia) and April comfort each other with childhood tales: “Do you remember that summer before high school when we came out here and raided your parent’s liquor cabinet… that was the best summer ever!”), and bad CGI monsters will forever be bad CGI monsters.
The barrel is not fully scraped until, without a mitigating hint of irony, the director presents a low budget greatest hits montage of The Matrix, Aliens and The Abyss before having a suited government official turn to the camera and light a cigarette before ordering the evidence to be dealt with in the usual manner. Ultimately, it is Ed Wood‘s Dolores Fuller who sums it up best: “You people are insane! You’re wasting your lives making crap! Nobody cares! These movies are terrible!”
Extraterrestrial is now available on DVD and Blu-ray which should be placed in a shallow grave and burnt