The Horror Honeys: THERE WILL BE PROBING

THERE WILL BE PROBING

A Sci-Fi Honey Review by Katie

Extraterrestrial (2014)

A handful of independent alien-centric sci-fi films have emerged on the scene this year; Matty Beckerman’s Alien Abduction and Joe Begos’ Almost Human were two such offerings that plumbed the depths of the abduction subgenre with mixed results.  Filmmakers Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz – affectionately known as ‘The Vicious Brothers’ – are the spaced-out minds behind the latest and arguably greatest of this year’s alien abduction tales: this week’s new release, Extraterrestrial.

From the film’s cold open, in which a terrified woman (played by Ginger Snaps’ Emily Perkins) attempts to escape an unseen entity, it is clear what kind of film the Vicious Brothers want this to be.  Jarring edits, breakneck camera work and vivid sound design pack a punch into a few brief minutes, introducing a mood and pace which the filmmakers are relatively capable of sustaining throughout.  The film then introduces us to our main batch of unsuspecting characters: good-looking twentysomethings, set out to spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods – where nothing good ever happens, as we well know from watching every horror movie ever.  You know this setup, and you know where it will end: power outages, strange pulsating lights, and shadowy grey creatures inevitably follow our naïve cabin-dwellers, sometimes to the immeasurable reaches of outer space.  Fortunately, lead actors Brittany Allen and Freddie Stroma carry the film to an ending you can see coming a mile away with a considerable amount of talent and depth of character.

And depth of...well, we'll get to that later. 

Let me just make this clear right now: this movie takes advantage of literally every alien abduction formula in the book.  From the design of the spacecraft and the aliens, to the abduction methods, to government conspiracy, and even that well-known alien proclivity for anal probing, no cliché goes unexplored or unexploited.  If you’re a fan of the genre, what you’re likely to see in this film is nothing you haven’t seen before – which in this case, I’m oddly ok with.  There are moments where the filmmakers appear to be poking fun at utilizing every age-old abduction trope at their disposal: the token “Harbinger” character is here in full force (played by Michael Ironside, also known as the dude that blows up heads in Scanners); ominous lines of dialogue are followed by cues of cracking thunder and lightning; even the aforementioned probing is played largely for gratuitous laughs (the twitter campaign for this film, incidentally, is #GetProbed).  An apparent self-awareness of using and abusing these genre stereotypes makes Extraterrestrial more fun than the average invasion tale.

Pictured: "Fun"
The Vicious Brothers are already known in the horror world as the creators of the Grave Encounters series (2011), films that made the most of the “found-footage style” boom instigated by Paranormal Activity in 2007.  There are moments where Extraterrestrial ventures into that territory, but the brothers wisely scale back and use this technique sparingly.  Beckerman’s Alien Abduction, which was shot entirely in the found-footage style, relied on a cheap framing device in order to justify this gimmick (autistic boy needs to obsessively record everything on camera because he’s autistic).  In Extraterrestrial, the found-footage moments are supplementary and only serve to add an alternate (and let’s face it, scarier) perspective on the invasion and subsequent events.  Found footage, like 3D, is a contrivance so widely overused for the wrong reasons – especially in the horror genre – that it’s refreshing to see it utilized here as a complement to the cinematic action, and not a crutch.

Oooooohhhh, look at the pretty lights!
Nice angles. 
Not original enough to be groundbreaking but not trite enough to be boring, the Vicious Brothers tread well-worn sci-fi paths with a commendable amount of energy in Extraterrestrial.  Taking cues from nearly every genre classic, from Close Encounters and The Twilight Zone to The X-Files and Fire in the Sky, the film still manages to feel less like it’s following an obvious sci-fi blueprint and more like it’s paying homage to all the things we know and love about alien abduction stories.  Predictable?  Yes.  But Extraterrestrial is also wickedly cheeky (pun intended!) horror entertainment.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Three and a half anal probes out of five.