What I'm Watching: Extraterrestrial
Well, my break from shorter reviews didn't last long, eh? Extraterrestrial was one I actually had planned for October, it was in the pile I specifically set aside to finally get around to reviewing, and everything. But I ended up counting badly, and needing to make room for other things I forgot about, so something had to go. I ended up picking this, to pull, with every intention of getting to it as soon as possible. I'd call this good.
I've been a fan of the Vicious Brothers for awhile now, and given very positive reviews of their two Grave Encounters movies, in fact I often point to the original as one of the best found footage movies made. So when I heard they were going to do an alien abduction movie, I was so on board. The X-Files was one of my first real fandoms, and I love me some aliens. I was also pleased to see this was NOT found footage, although the Brothers can't completely escape it, still inserting a few scenes filmed from handheld cameras.
We dive right in with ahhh, the classic setup of a group of friends going into the woods for a weekend. It's supposed to just be a romantic weekend alone for April and Kyle, but he went and invited a handful of their friends, much to April's dismay.
Kyle has every intention of proposing to his high school sweetheart and celebrating with the friends he invited along, but April has been having second thoughts about their entire relationship, and wants to explore other options. All this drama gets completely sidelined when a fireball streaks across the sky. They rush off to investigate the crash and discover something that is undeniably not of this Earth. Along with footprints leading away from the crash.
I am totally down for a movie that does not mess around. No teasing of "Oh, could that be a UFO??" Nope, the thing is larger than life and right in your face on the screen. They give the ship one hell of a beauty shot and let you linger and stare at it. Same thing with the alien. They may use lightning for the reveal, and the flashes may be quick, but it's also right there, and when more come later, they get even more on screen time.
The Vicious Brothers know their audience. One of the group is an absolute tool, and on the way to the cabin plays with fireworks in the car and shoots guns out of the sunroof. But just as you're thinking, "Wow this is amazingly stupid," the cops pull them over to yell exactly that at the kids. I went from rolling my eyes to grinning at the movie being in on the joke.
There's really very little *mystery* to the movie, and that could have been a problem.. Is that a UFO?! YEP! Is that an alien?? Oh HELL yes. Why are the aliens doing this?? BECAUSE YOU KILLED ONE FIVE SECONDS AFTER SEEING IT!! But hey, that's okay, this is all about survival, and who is going to make it through the weekend. This is a thriller, with tension constantly building, you don't need the mystery, just the terror.
You would think with such a straightforward plot, a movie that's almost two hours long would drag, but they populate the plot with a bunch of characters to pick off, and enough locations that they have multiple set pieces to hide out in and run around while they're being chased. Mix that all in with great visuals and use of colour to keep things interesting, and the movie is rarely boring.
There is a bit of a diversion that pads things out just a hair, with the police. While it does keep things from being boring and run run run all the time, as well as giving the film someone/something to cut away to at times. It culminates in giving the plot a breather as well as a bit of hope that the kids are saved, but that sense of security doesn't last long. The big problem though is, that the plotline with the sheriff is cut very abruptly short, and it feels unresolved. But it does serve to ratchet the tension up to a whole new level, and not just for the audience. The kids in the cabin realise no hope is coming, the aliens have powers that they can't do anything about, and they are supremely screwed with what the aliens can do. The third act kicks off with a feeling of almost zero hope of escape or survival, and the tension that comes from that is superb.
The ending, the last twenty minutes, is full of surprises. The love story comes back in a big, surprising way, with April's sacrifice and unexpected results. I was not expecting we would actually spend ANY time aboard the spacecraft, but it's a pleasant (Well, not for the characters...) addition to the movie. It brings a lot of incredible visuals to the movie I was not expecting to see, and brings an entirely new level of production values to Extraterrestrial. It's almost like an entirely different movie at that point. And the ending is...one of the greatest and darkest things ever. It is gloriously dark, just as you think everything is okay. The way they play it is so well done, with its epic music and the culmination of April and Kyle's story, and it all gets yanked out from under you. I love it so much. And it twists into such a great nod to the X-Files, and is played so perfectly, I would almost accept this as happening within the X-Files universe if asked.
The cast is solid all around, but the only one that needs to have anything said about him, is Michael Ironside. He plays a guy in the woods growing pot, and a UFO/government conspiracy nut. He's not the star, his role isn't that big, but when he's on screen, he *steals* the show.
In a lot of ways it's an almost generic alien abduction in the woods movie, using a lot of the familiar tropes, along with some from the cabin in the woods style of survival horror type movies. There's a lot here you've seen before, but what the Vicious Brothers bring to the table is a level of cinematography, style, and in your face attitude that isn't seen that often. While there's a lot you've seen before, you've never seen it quite like THIS, and that makes the movie stand out.
And not just visually. The Brothers also use sound to great effect, as you simply must do in a movie of this nature. It mixes the sounds of the horror and the spacecraft with the music at times, and that makes for an eerie, foreboding soundscape. It does maybe overly rely on the ever present BWOOMMMM type sounds, but they've almost become a staple at this point, so I don't hold that against the movie too much. I'm pretty sure they are using it almost ironically, as the most notable sound sting with that noise comes at a declarative moment that probably doesn't quite warrant it, almost played for laughs.
A lot of people may say this is a generic alien movie, and sure, there's some of that. But much like M. Night's Sixth Sense is a generic ghost story, it presents familiar tropes in new and interesting ways, and crafts a story all its own. It is almost the distilled essence of every alien movie ever, much like Sixth Sense is the perfected essence of all ghost stories.
It has its issues, a few plot cul-de-sacs, but it is a surprisingly epic story with amazing visual storytelling, a ton of surprises and scares, that is a must see for any fan of scifi horror and alien movies. The Vicious Brothers are some of the best horror filmmakers these days, and every movie I see by them is just a pure treat. Extraterrestrial continues that trend, and was an enjoyable, alien-filled romp in the woods.