Having been somewhat impressed by the Grave Encounters films (considerably moreso with the first than the second) that were the brainchild of the so-called Vicious Brothers (co-writer Stuart Ortiz and co-writer /director Colin Minihan), I was reasonably stoked to give their latest effort, 2014’s Extraterrestrial, a go when I saw it in the Netflix streaming queue, and while the bog-standard premise of five teens in a remote cabin set upon by evil (or at least amoral and pathologically curious) aliens seemed more than a tad on the unimaginative side, the fact of the matter is that there’s nothing terribly original about the “found footage” paranormal investigation trope, either, and yet our intrepid pair of not-really-siblings had managed to do something pretty good with that. Why not err on the side of optimism, then, when going into this one?
I guess I’ve more or less given away the basic plot schematics already, and in truth there really isn’t much more to it than the less-than-a-sentence-long summation already provided, but for those who need a bit more of a precise run-down, an annoying group of late-teens (or maybe they’re early-twentysomethings, it’s kinda hard to tell) are headed to the back country hills to scope out the remnants of the place where one of them used to spend their summers when their typically boorish and asinine behavior attracts the much-deserved attention of local sheriff Murphy (played by Gill Bellows, veteran of the most annoying and offensive television series in history, Ally McBeal). They’re let off with a warning, get to the ramshackle old hovel, and in due course quickly find out that their nearest “neighbor,” Travis (the always-great Michael Ironside) is an anti-government, conspiracy-obsessed crackpot who just so happens to be the local pot king. The kids score some of his wares, return to the cabin, get fucked up, and then a flying saucer crashes. They check it out, return from the scene reasonably unscathed, and then find themselves assaulted by the usual array of bright lights, loud noises no one else (man or animal) in the forest can hear, shaking walls and floors — you get the idea. Eventually, Scotty beams ’em up and they’re all pretty well doomed. Cue skinny little grey-skinned freaks with big black bugged-out eyes that don’t close, slimy cocoon enclosures and, of course, the requisite anal probes (what is it with aliens and buttholes, anyway?).
We’ve already established that one knows going in that this is all destined to be fairly standard stuff, but just how standard only becomes depressingly clear as events progress. At some point our attention and supposed sympathies are directed towards April (Brittany Allen) and Kyle (Freddie Stroma) as the ostensible “heroes” of the story because, hey, they’re good kids who really do, apparently, love each other, and wouldn’t ya just know that in the end, that love is what saves them from the same grisly fate as their shit-head friends, as the aliens decide to drop ’em back off on solid ground and head back to Zeta Reticuli or wherever. Love really does conquer all, it would seem — even when there’s no real reason (earthly or otherwise) for it to do so.
As you’ve no doubt surmised by now, there’s all kinds of shit wrong with this movie (and we haven’t even gotten into the gaping plot holes since that would just feel like “piling on”), but chief among them is how listlessly formulaic the entire script is. That didn’t hurt the Grave Encounters “franchise” any, true, but here Los Bros. Vicious can’t seem to find any interesting new wrinkle in their premise and/or the vision to tackle the “same old, same old” with enough panache to elevate the material above its own well-worn genre trappings as they did there. In short, they just don’t seem as “into” their jobs as they had been previously, and while I’m certainly no believer in the “trickle-down” theory when it comes to economics, their thoroughly uninspired approach seems to have infected most of the cast here, as well (with the notable exception of Ironside, as you’d expect), who all seem to be just barely going through the motions on the way to collecting their no-doubt-small paychecks.
Maybe Minihan and Ortiz should just stick with “found footage,” since they seem to have much more of an affinity with it — in fact, one of the chief stylistic flaws with Extraterrestrial is that is desperately feels like it should be shot on a hand-held “shaky cam,” but was lensed conventionally simply because the low-budget auteurs behind it wanted to prove they weren’t one-trick ponies. Here’s the thing, though — when you have a balsam-wood-thin script and shit actors, the whole “mockumentary” shtick can go a long way towards obfuscating those problems, and sometimes even succeeds in covering them up entirely. When you play it straight, well — no such luck, I’m afraid.
The Vicious Brothers have succeeded in the past by making films that were considerably better than they probably had any right to be. Unfortunately, Extraterrestrial bucks that trend and is, if anything, even worse than I’ve made it out to be. I’m thinking the aliens just split because they really couldn’t find any intelligent life down here.