In 'Extraterrestrial', Cliché Counts as Comedy

Extraterrestrial's "formula-as-purpose" style doesn't make it the "meta" movie it wants to be; instead, it's just grating and mired in cliché.


Director: Colin Minihan
Cast: Brittany Allen, Freddie Stroma, Melanie Papalia, Michael Ironside
Rated: R
Studio: Abduction Films
Year: 2014
US date: 2014-11-21 (General release)
UK date: 2014-11-21 (General release)

Long ago, there was a time when we didn't fear aliens. We looked to the skies and wished for extraterrestrials eager to explain life on our planet and our purpose within this crazy corner of the galaxy. We were all Close Encounters of the Third Kind when it came to visitors from outer space and anticipated the light show and technological wonder -- that is, until Ridley Scott and Alien came along. Suddenly, our interplanetary travelers took on a far more sinister persona, from rows of vicious teeth to deadly acid for blood.

Now, thanks to reality TV, various cable outlets, grassroots web series, and the ever-expanding genre of horror, little green men are, today, more like great big monsters. Films such as Fire in the Sky and The Fourth Kind have literally turned ET into a demon, determined to kidnap, probe, and perhaps even dissect its victims like a serial killer living out some psychotic inner fantasy. No longer are these creatures the savior of humankind. Instead, they are readying their immense motherships and legions of soldiers, preparing to invade and destroy us like any good conquering race.

So it's no surprise that, after they ventured through every cliché conceivable in a haunted asylum setting via the effective found footage film Grave Encounters (and its decent sequel, Grave Encounters 2), the so-called Vicious Brothers (actually the creative partnership between non-related Canadian filmmakers Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz) would do the same with their alien invasion effort Extraterrestrial. From the common "cabin in the woods" setting to the spaceship butt action, they leave no tired trope unexplored. Sure, the film has some decent scares, but they all come at the expense of a story so silly only a true believer would find it acceptable.

April (Brittany Allen) and her buffoonish boy toy Kyle (Freddie Stroma) decided to invite a group of their best buds and BFFs to head out into the wilderness and party likes its $1.59. As the weed smoke clears, a camcorder captures a fireball on the horizon. As luck would have it, a spaceship has crash landed near our 20-something teens, and our inebriated adventurers decide to find out what's going on. Turns out aliens have been abducting the local citizenry, with the town sheriff (Gil Bellows) eager to solve the disappearances. Of course, Travis (Michael Ironside, slumming for a paycheck), a crazy old hermit/coot, claims the ETs are working with our own government because, you know, Area 51 and all. An alien is killed. His buddies retaliate. Lights flash. Sounds boom. Audiences snore.

Extraterrestrial is terrible. It's irritating when it tries to be terrifying and hopelessly inept when it comes to things like characterization and narrative. It attempts to cover its aimless ass via a hipster belief in its own "meta" status, hoping your easy recognition of the obvious contrivances and tropes of the film type will have you smiling in smug self-satisfaction. Yes, this is a film that believes its clichés are comedy; or, better yet, that if you recognize them as such, you will laugh at yourself for being such a horror aficionado. This doesn't make the movie good, however; in the end it's just grating. At least The Fourth Kind fudged its whole "true story" modus to make us scream. This time around, it's formula on purpose.

This movie also contains one of the most hateful, hissable jerkbags in the history of terms referencing ancient female hygiene practices. Jesse Moss plays something called Seth, a noxious nimrod with the likeability of leprosy. If the Viciouses believed they were adding the necessary a-hole to the list of victim fodder givens, they went overboard on this guy. Of all the pseudo-adolescents offered up as ET target practice, he's the one your root for to die first, and in as painful and humiliating a way possible. In fact, the film is so dull and derivative that you wonder why the interplanetary slashers don't simply nuke this standard scary movie sight from space... just to be sure.

What also makes Extraterrestrial such a chore is that we've seen it all before, and done much better. In fact, V/H/S/2 had a similar storyline for the final film segment in its far superior anthology and it worked wonderfully. Why? Well, because instead of mining the traditional, the filmmakers there tried something new. Granted, the found footage format is no novelty, but the idea of setting the terror within a slumber party teen sleepover gave the material an urgency and dread that this movie lacks. There's also a significant lack of humor, gore, or anything else that would differentiate this dreck from the piles of homemade horror movies sitting on the shelves of wannabe auteurs.

As the decades have gone by, Spielberg and Scott have given way to stupidity, with every Tom, Dick, and hackneyed Harry using the technology and gullibility of the post-millennial audience to argue that "true" fear is only a sudden sound mix "BOOM!" away. Perhaps if the Vicious Brothers had simply gone Paranormal Activity on the narrative, showing us surveillance footage of evil aliens stalking a group of silly kids for 80 minutes before unleashing a final scare, we'd enjoy the experience more. At least it would have been something different. By diving headfirst into a pile of past conceits, Extraterrestrial feels both dated and redundant. Even a cliché would find it clichéd.

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