Extraterrestrial (2014)

They do not come in peace

Writers: Colin Minihan, Stuart Ortiz (The Vicious Brothers)
Director: Colin Minihan

The SF-horror genre mashup isn’t to everybody’s taste, but I’ve been a fan since Alien (1979). Unfortunately, it’s a genre mix that’s difficult to do well. So it makes a nice change to see an example that works.

Extraterrestrial begins at a garage. It’s nighttime, it’s raining and a scared woman is running through the street. She enters a phone box to call 911, at which point there are flashing lights and… well, you can guess. When the attendant comes out to investigate, she’s gone.

After the credits, the main story starts. Five young people are off for the traditional weekend at a log cabin (when will they learn?). On the way they meet the local sheriff, who is investigating the earlier event along with the numerous recent cattle mutilations in the area…

The set-up all in place, Act Two begins when the youngsters witness a UFO crash. An encounter with a surviving alien starts a chain of increasingly violent events.

It’s all extremely well done, with some great atmosphere. Lights and sounds in the dark prove a lot more effective than gore would have been, the direction by Colin Minihan is very effective. The aliens (tall, thin Greys) are mainly glimpsed in shadow, which aids believability. Hand held camerawork is used sparingly and appropriately.

Acting by the main characters is decent, but rather overshadowed by Michael Ironside as the Vietnam vet turned pot farming conspiracy theorist.

What makes this movie for me is the script. The story is not original, absolutely not. Quite the opposite. It quite deliberately references just about every cliche in the playbook. Of course, a cliche laden script is sometimes a mark of lazy writing. But here the script takes these tropes and has fun with them. For example there’s the cabin itself: when the youngsters arrive one comments on how they expected it to be a dump (which it normally is in horror movies). There’s the (thankfully short) section recorded on a phone in reference to found footage movies. And, of course, these films all need a Final Girl.

Added to this are huge number of references to other movies and TV shows: Bill & Ted, Psycho, Friday the 13th and The X-Files to name just a few. This is a movie aimed at fans who know the genres involved. Despite all of which, the script still managed to wrong foot me a couple of times.

What lets it down is the pacing. Much of it is fine, but at points it gets very choppy. Tension is built only to be released at the wrong moment. This is particularly true with some of the humour. I like a bit of fun to offset the bleak negativity of a horror movie, and the
gags in Extraterrestrial are good. But some are simply inserted in an unfortunate place (just ask Seth!).

The ending is also misjudged. I liked it in theory, but it was rather overlong – the point could have been made much more effectively and efficiently had it been shorter. I also had a problem with the final actions of the aliens, which seemed to lack clear motivation.

So Extraterrestrial is flawed and won’t appeal to everyone. But if you can go with the flow of genre references and cliche subversion then it’s an enjoyable ride.