We’ve all been there – started watching a film only to realise part way through that we’ve actually seen it before, sometimes fairly recently. Extraterrestrial is a case in point, a film so bland that it erases itself from the memory even while you’re watching it, a trick one might think its eponymous aliens might like to employ on witnesses to their grisly activities. No director is credited but it’s apparently a film by “the Vicious Brothers”, the Canadian-American duo of Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, though many sources cite only the former as director. The duo had previously written, directed and edited the found footage films Grave Encounters (2011) and Grave Encounters 2 (2012) and Minahan would go on to direct the interesting zombie variant It Stains the Sands Red (2017) from a script he co-wrote with Ortiz.
The plot of Extraterrestrial tries to splice together a bog standard cabin in the woods horror film with an equally standard issue alien abduction drama. A group of really annoying 20-somethings venture into the woods to party and sort out the dreary complications of their dull lives, unaware that a young woman has recently vanished into thin air at a nearby town. As they get stoned, argue, fall out and all the other stuff you’d expect from this sort of thing, something crashes into the woods and they find the wreckage of a downed alien spaceship. One of them, Lex (Anja Savcic) is abducted by a second ship and the others shoot one of the survivors from the crashed whip. Seeking refuge with Travis (Michael Ironside), a family friend of April (Brittany Allen) and the local conspiracy nut, the group is besieged by angry aliens who are looking for revenge. The telepathic aliens force the town sheriff, Murphy (Gil Bellows) – who blames the aliens for the disappearance of his wife – to shoot himself and his deputy, Mitchell (Sean Rogerson), Seth (Jesse Moss) is abducted in the woods and Kyle (Freddie Stroma) locks April and Melanie (Melanie Papalia) in the basement before himself being taken. After Melanie kills herself, April is beamed aboard the alien ship where she finds Seth being experimented on and rescues Kyle – but they find that there’s an even greater threat waiting for them in the woods.
The shadow of The X Files (1993-2018) falls long and heavy over Extraterrestrial with its talk of human-alien hybrids and a decades long conspiracy by the US government to cover up the existence of the aliens. And at the very ending the film gives us its very own “Smoking Man” played by Mackenzie Gray who looks here not unlike like a young William B. Davis. And herein lies Extraterrestrial‘s biggest problem – it hasn’t a single original bone in its body. It cobbles together bits and pieces from whatever horror and science fiction films and TV shows the Vicious Brothers hold dear (the laughable slow motion ending owes something to climax of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968)) and makes no effort to give the well-worn ideas a new twist. We’ve been here before, many times and Extraterrestrial has nothing new to say of the matter, just serving up the same old lukewarm stew of partying young people, panicky authority figures, intense conspiracy nuts, cabins in woods and animal mutilations.
Minahan, or whoever it is that’s in charge, deploys a whole bag of camera trickery, from shaky-cam to snatches of found footage, from weird distortion effects to bathing everything in a lurid red glow and, as is so often the case, turned up to the set without enough lights – so everything is shot through an impenetrable gloom, all the better for hiding any shortcomings there might have been in the effects department. It frequently makes it difficult to work out what’s going on and with the characters all being pretty much cast from the same mould you’ll lose interest in them and their fates pretty quickly – at the end, even the aliens seem to tire of then and unceremoniously dump them back in the woods to take their chances with the other enemy, one that turns up completely out of the blue.
When we do get to see the aliens they look like pissed-off relatives of the visitors seen in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – because after all it wouldn’t do to come up with something we hadn’t already seen before – and they don’t do very much other than hang around looking a bit moody in the glare of their Pink Floyd light shows. Their familiarity – they turned up week in, week out on The X Files – renders them not particularly scary and the siege in the cabin would have played out just the same if the antagonists had been a pack of hungry bears, a gang of psychos or even Bigfoot. One can’t help but wonder if aliens were chosen simply to justify the inevitable anal probe scene late in the day – though one has to wonder why an intelligent race of aliens would do something to one of their experimental subjects that they knew would kill it when they clearly had more to learn from it.
The final act turns into a CGI-fest as April finds herself whisked off to the alien mothership and Seth gets his fatal drill probing (was this scene meant to be funny? It’s hard to tell…) and to be fair it does look good but again it’s not anything we’re not already familiar with. Perhaps the only surprise is finding the alien ship is a filthy, goo-encrusted, strobe-lit dump (it looks a bit like the interiors of the crashed ship in Alien (1979) on the day that the cleaners hadn’t been round) but there’s no explanation offered as to why the aliens would want to life in such squalor.
The Vicious Brothers clearly have some talent if not a whole lot of imagination. They might be best advised to put aside all the films they seen in the past and try to think up something new for their future films. It Stains the Sands Red (which also starred Brittany Allen) was a step in the right direction, taking one of the horror genres most overused ideas and giving it enough fresh twists to make it interesting again. And at 92 minutes it was a lot more manageable than the unwieldy and self-indulgent 106 minute slog of Extraterrestrial.