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by Greg Cwik
April 23, 2014 11:44 AM
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Tribeca Review: 'Extraterrestrial' Is An Example of How Not to Make a Horror Film

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.


  • ElizabethR | May 12, 2014 1:41 AMReply

    While your extremely detailed review points out all of the reasons why one should hate this film, I don't think it is fair of you to discredit the actors and refer to them as "unprofessional". Most of them, if you had done some research, are actually doing quite well for themselves on the "professional" level; One has just received their own TV series set to film this summer and is also co-starring in one of England's largest movie franchises, and one you even mentioned to have won a daytime Emmy.
    I realize that out of everything you have stated, this seems like a silly thing to point out, but it was annoying for me to read as I have many actor friends. They can't help if the writing or direction or editing was subpar. Knowing how hard they work, and how many crappy films they have to partake in order to move ahead in their careers, makes your little comment referring to them as un-professionals, quite naive.

  • stevewiz | April 23, 2014 2:57 PMReply

    It's refreshing to see a review that doesn't gush or make excuses just because a film is independent. Whether a film costs five dollars or fifty million, if it sucks, it sucks. Although I still think giving this a "C" based on the technical expertise in it is good is misguided. Nobody goes to see films because they are shot nicely. (Re: one of the posts here: the technical expertise in Capt America is pretty overwhelming, but that won't win over that reader, right?) Regardless of budget, people want to see fully-dimensioned characters who care about something real (within the context of the film) and who do things that are unexpected, compelling, but ultimately, logical.

  • JF | April 23, 2014 2:04 PMReply

    Well it's a self financed not well connected indie film , I would still rather see this vs the high million dollar budgeted movies " indie " fests are now pushing

  • equipmentguy | April 23, 2014 1:13 PMReply

    Damn Greg now I kinda want to see this thing.

  • Greg Cwik | April 23, 2014 1:32 PM

    By all means see it. I won't dissuade you. The final 20 minutes are especially bizarre in how utterly derivative of ALIENS and THE MATRIX they are. It sort of feels like a student homage that somehow accidentally ended up in a prestigious film festival. I also sat next to the filmmakers while watching the movie, so that was kinda weird.

  • parsyeb | April 23, 2014 12:42 PMReply

    I love how IW's reviewers shit all over every indie genre film and then want us to pretend that their A- review of Captain America 2 has some legitimacy. The Dissolve's schooling all over you chumps, and that's after they took your worst writer (Matt Singer).

  • Indiewire | April 23, 2014 3:01 PM

    Presumably you're referring to one of our blogs, since Indiewire didn't review "Captain America 2."

  • Greg Cwik | April 23, 2014 1:33 PM

    That's not the correct use of the phrase "schooling."