In Extraterrestrial, April (Brittany Allen, Dead Before Dawn), still reeling from her parents’ divorce, is dragged by her boyfriend (Freddie Stroma, Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince, Pitch Perfect), and a group of his friends back to the cabin where she spent summers as a child. Her trip down memory lane takes a dramatic and terrifying turn when a fireball descends from the sky and explodes in the nearby woods. The group venture out to the crash site and discover the remnants of a ship from another planet, along with footprints that suggest its alien occupants are still alive. They soon find themselves caught in the middle of something bigger and more terrifying than anything they could ever imagine.
"Look, nobody invades my property without expecting a fight. I'm American. It's my right to defend what's mine, and nobody, not even little green men, are gonna take that right away from me."
Similar to what Tom Hanks says in 'Forrest Gump,' independent Sci-fi/Horror movies are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. Some are absolutely terrible yet entertaining, some are so bad they're unwatchable, and some embrace their true nature and go all out blending multiple genres with awesome results. 'Extraterrestrial' almost falls into the latter category, but just barely misses the mark.
In a secluded mountain town, strange things are happening. Pets are being slaughtered and people are disappearing under mysterious circumstances all over the place. Local lawman Sheriff Murphy (Gil Bellows) and his deputies are baffled by these strange incidents, the most recent one involved a young girl in a phone booth that was seemingly ripped out of the ground and tossed into the air. Only the girl never came back down.
April (Brittany Allen), her boyfriend Kyle (Freddie Stroma), and their friends Melanie (Melanie Papalia), Seth (Jesse Moss), and Lex (Anja Savcic) have the absolute worst timing. April's divorcing parents have a cabin in the mountains and are about to sell the property. Before the sale is finalized, April and her friends decide it's the perfect place for a little R&R with the right amount of drinking and pot smoking and time permitting maybe some premarital sex.
After Sheriff Murphy warns the traveling band of friends to stay out of trouble, it doesn't take long for trouble to find them. For years the area has been a hotbed for UFO activity and after a ship crash lands in their back yard, April and her friends learn that they're not alone in the universe…or in the woods. With the help of the Sheriff and their conspiracy theory spouting neighbor (Michael Ironside), April and her friends must band together if they ever hope to survive the night.
I'll admit to having a bit of trouble pulling together a review for 'Extraterrestrial.' Part of me was gloriously entertained and then part of me was kind of let down. That's a confusing emotional response I know, so bear with me as I try to lay things out without giving away too many spoilers. What I will say right out of the gate is that this movie has a great sense of humor most of the time. Michael Ironside is a blast in his role as a marijuana growing, gun toting, conspiracy theory nut job. He knew what his role was in the movie and dialed the camp factor up to 11. Without giving away any real spoilers - I think this is one of the few movies where the man gets to keep both of his arms!
Then there are the frights. To that effect, I will tip my hat to writers and directors The Vicious Brothers A.K.A. Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz. There is a lot of setup for jump scares that are well timed and feel unexpected. I popped off my couch a time or two, I'm not embarrassed to admit. Adding to the fun are the little green men…or rather tall lanky grey men. You don't see much of them, which is good since they're a CGI effect, but they have a great presence and pop out when you least expect them to, snatching away unsuspecting humans or in a particular case make their heads explode with their apparent telepathic powers! For much of this movie, it plays like 'Signs,' only with a bit of a satirical sense of humor. Which is fantastic.
Where things go a bit off is in the third act. Just when the movie feels like its about to wrap up, there's about another twenty minutes of movie to go involving some mothership antics by our cast of characters. I don't want to give too much away here as it is very spoilery - but seeing the ship and what they ultimately do with their captives was a bit of a "nuke the fridge" kind of moment. With how the film comes to a close, pulling in an 'X-files' style shadowy smoking man character, the last twenty minutes works in that context - but even then - it feels like too much. With that I will say the conclusion is unexpected and offers up the right amount of extremely dark humor to close out the movie.
Over all the cast does their jobs well and everyone is convincing in their respective roles. At times some members of the cast can feel a bit annoying, like they're trying too hard to be funny, but then the movie switches gears back towards some solid scares and everything works. It's probably in this tonal imbalance that I have my greatest issues. That isn't to say that humor and scares can't mingle well in a movie, they can, they just need to be in balance. In 'Extraterrestrial' that balance teeters to the extremes and rarely finds a center point for very long. Perhaps my biggest misgiving is that actors Gill Bellows and Michael Ironside aren't given enough to do. I easily could have watched an entire movie based on these guys alone.
At the end of the day 'Extraterrestrial' is actually a pretty decent way to spend 100 minutes of your time. While imperfect, I can't deny that I had a good time. If it had been a straight sci-fi terror movie, it could have played like a great monster-of-the-week episode of 'The X-Files.' Had it been a more deadpan horror comedy - 'Extraterrestrial' easily could have ranked up there with genre favorites the likes of 'Return of the Living Dead' but with aliens. As it tries to be both things at the same time, it's just pretty good. Not amazing, but still fun.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Extraterrestrial' invades Blu-ray thanks to IFC and Scream Factory pressed on a Region A locked BD50 Disc. Housed in a standard case with slip cover, the disc opens directly to the main menu.
After a movie like 'The Pyramid,' I am so happy to watch a dark and creepy movie that actually knows how to use lighting! As a movie that fluctuates from brightly lit scenes to pitch black - 'Extraterrestrial' enjoys a beautiful 2.35:1 1080p HD transfer. Shot on Red Epic cameras from a 5k source - the detail levels here are absolutely fantastic. Not ever so soft that it looks like video and never so detailed that it doesn't look real, the image simply comes through with terrific clarity - especially during non-effects heavy scenes. Where this level of clarity can be problematic is when there is any extensive usage of CGI - they just stand out against the higher resolution image. This can be particularly noticeable during the film's third act segue into the alien mother ship. Other than that little qualm, the rest of the image - in particular black levels and shadows are practically flawless. It's nice to see digital camera work that's done with carful time and setup. And lighting. I love actually being able to see my movies and sadly that seems to be a bit of a novelty with modern independent horror films.
A good horror movie deserves a strong audio presentation, and yeah - 'Extraterrestrial' wins big. Now, for a bit of clarity, on the box art it states that this movie has a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. It doesn't. In fact it has a DTS-HD MA 7.1 track! So yeah if you've got a surround system optimized for that kind of setup, you should be ready to rock and roll. If you're like me and don't have a 7.1 surround system - you're going to have to switch things over to the DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. That isn't to say that's a bad thing because even for a stereo downmix, it gets a hell of a lot of oomph out of the presentation! Imaging for this mix is the clear winner as sounds move across the channels in a nicely convincing way. The sound design offers the right blend of dialogue, quiet music, and ambient noises that feels nicely present and maintains an audible sense of dread. As much of the mix keeps to the midranges, you're not going to have to ride your volume button - even when things get loud and crazy later in the film. All around a very pleasing track.
Audio Commentary: Directors Colin Minihan, Stuart Ortiz and cast members Brittany Allen and Melanie Papalia keep the track nice and lively. It's a fun commentary that offers a lot of information and with four people in the booth there is never a dull moment.
Deleted Scenes: (HD 7:17) This a collection of five scenes that offer some "slow" character development moments. It's a shame they were cut because I can't see how they would have interrupted the pacing any - in fact they would have helped some of the tonal issues I mentioned previously.
The Making of Extraterrestrial: (HD 7:44) This is a brief behind the scenes look at the production.
Trailer: (HD 1:59) The trailer plays the film like a straight horror/sci-fi movie and certainly does a good job of selling the feature.
More from IFC: (HD 5:51) A collection of trailers for other horror movie blu-ray releases.
By not going into 'Extraterrestrial' with much in the way of high expectations, I came away very entertained. That isn't to say it's a great movie by most standards - it does have its problems - but it is a good time. If you're in the mood for a fun little horror/sci-fi flick you should come away happy. With the fantastic picture quality, the strong audio presentation and the scant but informative extras - 'Extraterrestrial' is certainly worth a look.