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Tribeca Review: 'Extraterrestrial' Is An Example of How Not to Make a Horror Film

By Greg Cwik | Indiewire April 23, 2014 at 11:44AM

The Vicious Brothers wrote the initial draft of the screenplay for "Extraterrestrial" while they were in college — and it shows.
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"Extraterrestrial."
TFF "Extraterrestrial."

The Vicious Brothers wrote the initial draft of the screenplay for "Extraterrestrial" while they were in college — and it shows: the film displays all the nuance and cleverness of a freshmen’s first short story. They substitute overt rip-offs for allusions, vague stand-ins for characters, painful manipulation for emotional resonance.

This is the sibling directors' second feature, and while it’s admittedly a vast technical improvement over their first film, the inexplicable cult-favorite "Grave Encounters" (another of the myriad found-footage films proliferating on streaming services), it shares the same inane tendencies. The people inhabiting the Vicious universe (Viciousverse?) are stupid, and the universe they inhabit follows suit. These are the kind of horny, alcohol-fueled young people who think it’s a good idea to split up and search the endless dark corridors of insane asylums, and who can’t figure out how to get around a log in the road. If the Vicious films possessed the self-awareness and gaudy good times of a B-movie, these faults would be forgivable, maybe even endearing. But "Extraterrestrial" is enveloped by a suffocating air of seriousness, and it's depleted of scares, a really bad one-two punch for a horror film.

Photogenic couple April (Brittany Allen, who won a Daytime Emmy for "All My Children") and Kyle (Freddie Stroma) are getting ready to spend a weekend at April’s parents’ cabin in the woods, which is being sold following an unfriendly divorce. But Kyle, as young men are wont to do in horror films, invites a group of obnoxious friends (Melanie Papalia, Jesse Moss, Anja Savcic) to come along, and of course this upsets April, who was planning on telling Kyle some important news this weekend. Kyle, for his part, was planning on proposing to April, so everyone has something to get off his or her chest when the aliens show up and start slaughtering people.

The gang brings along the beer and the pot, because nothing goes with monsters and murder like pot smoke and nostalgia, and start partying. Some other locals from the small town in which they will all die include the Sheriff (Gil Bellows), who happens to have a grudge against the aliens (of course), and Michael Ironside, who shows up for a welcome bit of comic relief as a paranoid, gun-loving ’Nam vet with a pot farm (of course). He doesn’t make anyone’s head explode (though at least one head does explode in the film), but Ironside brings a fleeting sense of fun to a throwaway trope, and gets to yell about his American right to protect his property with an automatic rifle. One almost wishes the film consisted solely of Ironside’s stoned, solipsistic musings (shot found-footage-style, of course).

The brothers apparently assume (or hope) that their viewers have never heard of "The X-Files" (or its subsequent films), "The Thing" (or its remake), "Alien," "Aliens," "The Evil Dead" (or its remake), "Independence Day," "The Mist," "Dark Skies," "Cloverfield," "The Blair Witch Project," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (any iteration), "Minority Report," "War of the Worlds”" (any iteration), or any film that’s ever made a crude joke about anal probing because all of these are, in some capacity, stuck into this hodgepodge of recycled material.

On the bright side, because they didn’t have to spend on money on creativity or professional actors, the budget allows for decent production values. The film’s climax includes a rather impressive tracking shot of some government clean-up agents (you know, the ones who wear the big impermeable suits, like in "E.T." or "Cloverfield," and dispose of witness’ bodies using flamethrowers). The rip-offs are just as plentiful in this shot as in the rest of the film, but at least here there’s a self-aware sense of humor to it.

Overall, "Extraterrestrial" looks pretty good: the camera and lens work look significantly better than the budget suggests, the CGI is impressive, and white light spills from flashlights and windows like thick white gauze. Some monochrome scenes are well-shot: halls glow with ominous red luminescence and mist seeps through the cracks under the door. Of course, the brothers splice found footage-style bits throughout the film, for reasons that remain indiscernible, and these scenes naturally look awful. More than that, they don’t add anything of value — except, perhaps, a self-reflective nod to their previous film, which most viewers have probably forgotten, much like they will "Extraterrestrial."

Criticwire Grade: C-

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Almost certainly a straight-to-VOD title, the film may garner some interest from genre fans but negative is likely to hold back much marketplace potential.

This article is related to: Reviews, Extraterrestrial (2014), Horror, Festivals, Tribeca Film Festival, The Vicious Brothers