Canada. Directed by Colin Minihan, 2014. Starring Brittany Allen, Freddie Stroma, Jesse Moss. 100 minutes.
Grave Encounters auteurs Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz (better known as the Vicious Brothers) are back with the Cabin in the Woods/X-Files/Alien mash-up nobody asked for. Brittany Allen heads up to her parents’ cabin in the woods to run some errands for her divorcing parents, but with her boyfriend, bestie and a couple of hangers-on in tow, it turns into a weekend of…well, the sorts of things that twentysomethings always do at cabins in the woods in movies like these. That’s when the aliens show up in their spaceship, probes at the ready.
The above synopsis doesn’t suggest much in the way of potential and the script lives up to that expectation. Too often, the Brothers substitute genuine scares with knowing winks at the audience (the “anal probe” sequence is the best example of this). Allen’s character is the only one given any depth, and for the most part the supporting cast only exists to define her character by comparison–a common flaw of the Final Girl formula. Much of the dialogue is terrible (a heated debate about marriage sounds, for all the world, like one of Matt Walsh’s straw-man arguments), and there’s far too many stupid plot points (the bit with the roman candle made me groan).
That all being said, Extraterrestrial mostly works because of the execution. If you absolutely must have a Final Girl in a film, you could do a lot worse than have Allen play her, and her pluck engages the viewer when the writing doesn’t. (Indeed, almost all the genuine feels in the movie come from her performance and not from the script.) Reliable Canadian supporting players Gil Bellows and Emily Perkins make the most of small roles that never quite get the attention they should. Michael Ironside steals every scene as an off-the-grid libertarian conspiracy theorist with a greenhouse full of sweet leaf.
The only duds in the cast are Jesse Moss, who talks like Jesse Pinkman and looks like Skrillex, and Sean Rogerson, who saddles his sheriff’s deputy with the worst Barney Fife-ish yokel performance since what’s-his-nuts in the first Cabin Fever.
Minihan’s direction also contributes to the enjoyment. In a visual sense, he’s not a particularly distinctive stylist and there’s very little that separates the look of Extraterrestrial from that of any other modern horror movie. But he keeps everything going at a brisk pace (the film feels a bit shorter than its hour-forty running time), his approach to action is coherent and even moderately exciting, and he kept proceedings tenser and more suspenseful than I had expected. The design and effects work look nice from an aesthetic point of view even if they appear exactly as you’d expect them to (no deviating from the Fire in the Sky/“Duane Barry” template here).
Extraterrestrial is a flawed piece of work, too derivative to take entirely seriously. And yet it’s enjoyable enough, if you take it on its own terms.