Alien abductions, ever since tales of this phenomena started, have fuelled many a film and show, to the point where the image of the Grey (the big headed, black eyed alien) is a recognised pop-culture staple. These have varied wildly, to some better episodes of The X-Files and the likes of Fire in the Sky, to the ridiculous like Communion or… well, many rubbish episodes of the X-Files. There are regrettably very few new ideas to the subgenre bought to the table by Extraterrestrial, the latest horror from The Vicious Brothers, the team behind the Grave Encounters films. If you’ve seen either of those, you probably already have a decent idea of what level this one is working at.
April’s (Brittany Allen) parents are splitting up, and the old family cabin in the woods is getting sold. So April and her boyfriend Kyle (Freddie Stroma) are off to take pictures, gather stuff, and have one last great weekend there. But they have bigger problems than the gaggle of friends Kyle didn’t mention he was bringing with him, or weird Uncle Travis (Michael Ironside) next door. On the first night there, something crash lands into the woods nearby; something from out of this world, and its owners are soon to follow. But how April and the others deal with their situation could be the start of an interplanetary incident.
From the first mention of a Cabin in the Woods, you just know that this is going to be very, very familiar territory. This brings pretty much nothing new to the table in regards to the standard “spam in a cabin” or “alien abduction” subgenres. It’s particularly noticeable since there have been some new horror movies featuring the Greys relatively recently, such as the found footage Alien Abduction or Dark Skies. This doesn’t have much that you wouldn’t have seen in either of those. There are some interesting moments, like a clever little scare involving rainfall, but those are lost in among bickering idiot characters and sub-plots that go nowhere. For instance, there’s at least one major point that involves the local sheriff investigating another disappearance in the area. You think this would turn out to be something important, but nope, it ends really abruptly and unsatisfactorily.
At least the aliens and their technology look quite good. There is though that odd thing about the way such threats are presented in these sorts of films, which goes back at the very least to the days of Signs. Namely that while these are beings in craft that can traverse the endless void of space, when they get to Earth, they are just screeching ghouls that are mostly good for jump scares, that can apparently be foiled by wooden doors. This is no exception, as apart from a few scenes where the Greys finally remember “oh yeah, we have psychic powers don’t we?”, they could be almost any other monster. Dark Skies was a flawed film, but the aliens there worked because their manner was consistently intelligent, and they used their abilities to the fullest. Having intelligent aliens as the villain should make for a horror where the suspense should come from “how can they work out a way to get the heroes”, not “from which tree are they going to jump out from behind”.
Extraterrestrial isn’t worth the time, everything’s been done before, and while the direction at points is nice, it can’t get other a script and characters it’s hard to feel anything about. The whole thing presents things too damn seriously; there’s a major set-piece death-by-alien-probe (yes, they really go there!), and the film acts as though this should be something truly serious and shocking, not the ridiculous and tasteless presentation that it is. It’s also good seeing Michael Ironside in stuff, but he’s only around about eight minutes tops, and like Sean Bean, he is effectively a walking spoiler. Instead of this film try watching V/H/S/2; the final segment which bears similarities, but done in less than twenty minutes, with a lot more energy, and there are a bunch of other shorts to go with it. Alternatively, for a far better take on a Grey invasion, go play the new X-Com game!