When any film, and especially a horror one, walks so uniformly down the path of established cliche and trope there is always a moment of analysis for the viewer. Is this movie intentionally formulaic to further some theme or idea or is it just a lazy movie that is content painting by numbers? Nowhere is that question more apparent than in the Vicious Brothers’ ( Colin Minihan, Stuart Ortiz) new film Extraterrestrial. Much like Grave Encounters and Grave Encounters 2, there is more than a hint that the “brothers” are knowingly poking at known tropes. The trouble is that it is mostly unclear if they really understand what they’re poking.
Shall we list the tropes? From the opening shots we get a young woman’s hind quarters in underwear as an establishing shot, an introduction of the cabin in the woods conceit, a group of wild “teens” looking to party via montage, as well as a stern warning from the local sheriff of strange going-ons. The list could go on, but the point is made. The strange sensation is that it all seems so well placed and intentional one cannot but assume that it is by design, almost parodic without much in the way of actual jokes. Instead, the first act plays like a smug recreation of those movies we’ve seen before.
The major diversion is in the fact that the title of the film indicates. Gone are the typical slashers, monsters, bumps in the night, replaced instead by something fare more cosmic. That diversion, though, seems less like a clever adaptation of this kind of horror film and more like an apparent pass to wildly use all of the tropes as freely as they can because, you know, it’s aliens this time guys.
The moment when the scales tip to knowing satire is a crucial moment in the second act of the film. The film switches back and forth between found footage and the traditional fourth-wall type of filming. This effect has two effects: First, it is amazingly apparent how ridiculous people look whilst filming things while in perilous danger. We’ve all had the thought “why are they still filming?” in found footage movies, but when you see the actual visual of a person holding their camera in front of their face instead of dealing with the problem at hand it becomes comically ridiculous. Secondly, it reaches beyond the ridiculousness of the actual moment in the film, and comments on our current societal habit of using our electronic devices as a separation between reality and the digital representation of it. Instead of interacting with each other in reality, they do so through their recording devices, even to the point that they are narrating facts they all already know.
It is during this sequence that you almost side with Extraterrestrial being a clever and stabbing satire of this kind of film. Sadly, though, it drifts farther and farther from this apex until it is nothing but a series of sequences that could have been supercut from other films of this ilk. It’s almost as if the filmmakers understand the tropes and have an idea of how to undercut them, but they can’t quite manage to effectively do so. They can introduce interesting ideas, but they don’t seem to trust themselves enough to branch away from the well travelled narrative path. While Extraterrestrial is not a bad film, it is a shaky one that doesn’t trust itself enough to follow its more clever ideas.