Written by: Daniel McDonald
Directed by: The Vicious Brothers
Cast: Brittany Allen, Freddie Stroma, Jesse Moss, Gil Bellows, Michael Ironside
Everyone has an opinion, and a right to express them, that’s what makes this a great country. However, when it comes to the subjective nature of Art, it becomes a bit “dicey.” 2014 Sci-fi/Horror film Extraterrestrial, is a strong example of how difficult critiquing can be.
Several other professional and fan reviews noted many positive qualities in the film, but almost uniformly dismissed it for being incredibly derivative, going as far as to name films and even specific sequences to illustrate their point.
Watching horror films for the past 46 years, I have pretty much experienced every type, style and quality level in the genre. One thing I’ve repeatedly become aware of, is that originality is often in short supply. Sequels, reboots and extremely low budgetary concerns have been a large part of what horror fans have been given as fresh product. The occasional stepping outside the box, has usually been greeted by fans and critics alike as water in a severely dry, depleted cinematic wasteland. The over hyped reactions to films such as It Follows, The Witch and (rightly so in my humble opinion) The Babadook, often backfired as they’ve set expectations so high that disappointment is almost always in the cards.
Watching Extraterrestrial a few nights ago, I certainly saw valid examples of what the naysayers said is the main flaw in the film, over familiarity of the story. I felt that creators the Vicious Bothers (whose Grave Encounters was a clever, worthy addition to the far too out of creative fuel Found Footage subgenre) who co-wrote and V.B. #1 Colin Minihan who directed, were going for something else entirely.
Why is it Halloween (which, don’t get me wrong I loved) is considered a ground breaking classic, when Bob Clark’s Canadian Masterpiece Black Christmas told almost the exact same story, just as well 4 years earlier? Friday the 13th has been telling basically the exact same story for decades in shockingly declining quality (Jason Takes Manhattan anyone?) yet is constantly called an iconic classic. A Nightmare on Elm Street has taken a truly viciously original monster and through pure repetition turned him into a Borscht Belt Comedian.
What struck me almost immediately, was the fact that I did not for one second feel I was watching a project not filled with cinema clichés because it had nothing else to add to the subgenres, but fully embracing, honoring and exploring (not exploiting) these tropes to create an enjoyable, surprisingly expensive looking, good time popcorn movie. I was genuinely shocked as were many of the naysayers at how lavish the technical aspects (crisp, creatively effective cinematography by Samy Inayeh, ambitious, evocative production/set design by unbelievably budget stretching Scott Moulton and Andrew Rogers, quality makeup design by Kari Anderson, laser sharp editing by The Vicious Brothers, elaborate, varied, believable FX from Winston Fan and Waterproof Studios. A special shout out to Stephen Chung’s truly imaginative, atmospheric sound design/editing) prove to be… I’ll not soon forget the heroine’s terrified warning scream to her about to be abducted friend “Get in the car!” which is wisely used by the writer/creators as a terrific FX sequence punctuation… done as a blackout voice-over.
The Achilles heel of most low budget, independent films is the vastly uneven quality of acting. I’m not sure how the V.B. boys managed all of above technical marvels on a 3 million dollar budget, let alone attract the solid mixture of ambitious, young lead performers and veteran seasoned older professionals. Freddie Stroma gives unusually emotional, sensitive qualities to leading man Kyle. A more traditional, but nevertheless funny, tragic Jesse Moss undergoes some seriously nasty Sci-fi traditions as wise cracking sidekick Seth. Melanie Papillia brings lovely vulnerability to the B-girl role of Melanie. Welcome, familiar faced Michael Ironside as an aging, Rambo-ish, pot farming conspiracy theorist who adds humor and authority, stealing every scene he’s in, and a really terrific Gil Bellows gives a multilayered, A-list quality performance as the town Sheriff with alien issues of his own. Final girl April (a forcefully intense, Emmy winning Brittany Allen) basically carries the final quarter of the film to its nihilistic finale.
As I said, I can see (and could name) the many films referenced by Extraterrestrial, but simply didn’t get any sense that its creators were doing a disservice to those films or Sci-fi/Horror fans. A real sense of passionate investment on both sides of the camera (c’mon an honest to God anal probe!) gives this eye and ear candy, slick, satisfying “everything but the kitchen sink” 90 minute funfest an absolutely valid place in this overcrowded genre… I’m just saying…