PLOT: Five friends go into the woods for one last bash before college. Late one night, a UFO crashes into the nearby woods, setting off an extraordinary, and terrifying, chain of events that will change these young people's lives forever.
REVIEW: EXTRATERRESTRIAL knows what it wants to be, but that just happens to be a couple different things: a semi-spoof of alien abduction/found footage movies, but also the genuine article, with moments of intense horror and tragedy. This schizophrenia isn't an easy thing to pull off for the best of them, and it proves to be a hindrance to a sometimes very enjoyable horror flick.
The film comes from the Vicious Brothers, the fellows behind the ghost-hunting found footage movies GRAVE ENCOUNTERS. Those are adequate takes on the genre; workmanlike time-passers aimed at folks more inclined to enjoy the shaky-cam hysterics those kind of movies bring than those of us who are simply over it. Upping their filmmaking game, the Vicious Bros go for a more traditional stab at horror by keeping the handheld business to a minimum, although including just enough of it to scratch that itch while also poking a bit of fun at the format. The directors still indicate that what they enjoy best are those quiet moments where characters creep around in the dark with little more than a flashlight, just waiting for that loud bang to scare the shit out of everybody. This they do very well; adopting a steady tone and atmosphere is another story.
The film's set-up is incredibly cliched - so much so that you eventually realize that the Vicious boys are actually packing their movie with sci-fi/horror stereotypes and tropes on purpose.. A group of teens on the verge of college head to a cabin in the woods for that one-last-hurrah party. Our focus is on April (Brittany Allen) and her boyfriend Kyle (Freddie Stroma), two lovebirds whose relationship will either be solidified or broken up after this weekend: She's thinking of going to school in New York, and that plan doesn't include him. Unbeknownst to her, Kyle is about to propose. Awkward. Their little drama will play out in the isolation of her uncle's cabin in the middle of nowhere, although it will be witnessed by three of their friends, the most prominent of which is Seth (Jesse Moss) who takes the title with "group asshole" and runs with it like he's competing for the Movie Douchebag Olympics. (Seriously, this guy is the worst.)
Wouldn't you know it, their first day of drinking and drugging is interrupted by a crashed UFO, which naturally contains some perturbed aliens. Locking themselves in their cabin, the group is quickly stalked and terrorized by the extraterrestrials, which eventually leads to the untimely death of one of the visitors. Turns out fighting back against the aliens is even a worse idea than standing pat; now they're really pissed.
EXTRATERRESTRIAL plays all this out with a mixture of mindsets: It's a straightforward thriller when we're dealing with the visceral terror of the characters being hunted by aliens, but the movie curiously adds little sardonic bits throughout to let you know it's not taking itself too seriously. Among the strange quirks is a supporting turn from Michael Ironside as the prototypical "crazy hermit who lives in the woods but really knows what's going on"; his over-the-top antics are definitely out of step with the rest of the film, and the exposition he provides comes off as a thoroughly desperate move by the writers. Then there are just lazy, hammy moments which want us to nod in approval at their cleverness. There are several - and I mean several - points where a character will say something along the lines of "Everything is going to be fine." and you can bet a million bucks the lights will go out immediately after. Or, when a character peeks out of a window and says "He's definitely gone," one second later we'll see it is definitely not gone. One of these is cute, two times we get it, three or four times and you're hurting my ribs from jabbing me with your elbow. Whether or not the Vicious Brothers intend their comedy to be taken at face value is debatable, but the result is the feeling of being jerked around.
What is indisputable is how big of a bust the cynical and predictable ending the Vicious Brothers come up with is. I won't spoil anything, obviously, but it is seriously contrived, meant to shock and disturb us yet carrying zero weight because it's so telegraphed. The fact that the final surprise has been pulled before, and better, by at least one classic horror movie is bad enough, but the coldness of it also indicates a certain smugness on the part of the filmmakers; I left the theater with a very bad taste in my mouth.
The acting is fine all around, even if the cast has been relegated to playing stock horror movie characters. Brittany Allen impresses as the lead girl, and though his character is often ridiculous, Michael Ironside rises to the occasion with a performance that he obviously had fun with. You will absolutely want to beat Jesse Moss to a pulp early and often, so I guess that speaks to a clear understanding on his part as to what kind of person he's playing.
The Vicious Brothers can craft a nifty suspense scene and they also get a lot of bang for their buck with a handful of very above-average visual effects sequences. When they're sticking to the basics, EXTRATERRESTRIAL is a perfectly acceptable low-budget thriller. It's when they get too snarky for their own good that the movie falters in a big way.