Despite such bland, generic branding, the Vicious Brothers’ Extraterrestrial shies away from repeating the same mistakes of their ambitiously convoluted last film, Grave Encounters 2, by reaching for a fast-paced, fun-filled watch that’s more in line with their original Grave Encounters. Alien invasion movies have been recycled time and time again – a statement also easily said about found-footage – but the Vicious Brothers decide instead to go the route of reinvention. Why not just have a ton of fun playing with other-worldly stereotypes? Unfortunately there’s no reward without risk, as this haunting chase won’t go down in history, but if you’re looking for a confident horror flick about gangly grey men, strap in and hold on. The ride may be bumpy, but enough flashing lights and shadowy figures distract from a passable simplicity – or maybe I was just brainwashed to believe as much?
This is going to sound like the biggest cliche known to horror, but the film starts out with a group of five friends traveling into the middle of nowhere for some secluded cabin-in-the-woods fun. Yes, April (Brittany Allen) is tasked with photographing her childhood vacation home before it’s sold, so her boyfriend Kyle (Freddie Stroma) and three friends (Jesse Moss, Melanie Papalia, and Anja Savcic) decide to make a debaucherous weekend out of the trip. Unfortunately for these reckless hooligans, an alien craft crash-lands outside the property, and after a close run-in, they find themselves being stalked by extraterrestrial beings. From here it’s pretty simple – survive the night, get out of dodge, and keep one eye on the sky for the rest of their lives.
Right. Couple the above stereotypical synopsis with the words “found footage,” and I’m sure half of you just stopped reading my review altogether. For those of you still with me, here’s where I explain how the Vicious Brothers blend normality with their own twisted vision, attacking alien movies with a heightened sense of intensity that’s heavy on reveals. Nothing is hidden, no one tries to play dumb, and we’re certainly not challenged by celestial mysteries, which lets us appreciate Extraterrestrial‘s fight for survival without interruption. It’s not long before April encounters her first alien, and the Vicious Brothers have no problem doing so with clarity, never cheating us out of the monster movie aspect. An alien movie should contain plenty of aliens – and the Vicious Brothers agree.
Extraterrestrial has a crisp style, and despite taking place in a dense wooded area in the dead of night, the Vicious brothers work a nice balance between darkness and color. Reddish lights piercing through dirty windows, whipping winds blowing trees and a blaring score of brass instruments can only mean a spacecraft hovers above, which transforms a natural serenity into a flood of tinted chaos – a quick and effective transformation. The Vicious Brothers also blend in night vision scenes that paint forest areas green and found footage elements spanning numerous technological devices, but the jumping around stays fresh instead of infuriating. Extraterrestrial is mostly shot in narrative, third-person fashion, but the different angles and visual deliveries provide atmospheric boosts whenever certain scares or tension is called upon.
What sets apart the Vicious Brothers’ alien extravaganza happens very early on when a Slenderman-esque alien presents itself in full form, completely lit, in all its freakishly wrinkled glory. Stretching out normal extraterrestrial visions of bulbous heads with big, beady eyes, we’re never exposed to cheap scare tactics as unseen threats rustle some leaves off-screen.
Diving even further into the alien sub-genre, Extraterrestrial goes above and beyond by following April as she’s abducted, revealing the inner workings of alien spaceships that so many movies deprive viewers of. Plus, as a cherry on top, how many of these similar genre titles actually show victims being tested and tortured, going as far as to capture the greatest alien myth of all time: anal probing. The Vicious Brothers utilize so many accepted unmentionables from alien movies and ACTUALLY find a way to work scenes around them, turning norms into entertaining tidbits.
Genre norms can either be a cinematic killer or a fluffy filler depending on how they’re used, but the Vicious Brothers find a stroke of brilliance in their obsession with comically exploiting every single norm, no matter how ridiculous, and using their generic nature to create laughs and interest. Nothing gets looked over – hell, the movie essentially starts with a party montage the minute the soon-to-be-drunkest character pops a can of fizzy, light nothingness. Just some bros, babes, some sexy partying, and the dick who has to jinx it all by saying “Everything is fine.” Oh, really? Have you seen horror movies?
Literally seconds after the words are uttered, every light goes out and the college party turns into a survival party. In the same vein, what’s one of the first things an unrecognizable Michael Ironside says? “I’ve seen some shit!” Yes you have, redundantly crazy old man whose conspiracy theory of course turns out to be right. The only thing worse would be if boyfriend Kyle puts his own life in danger to save April, ending the dialogue with “I’m full of surprises.” You might be, but Extraterrestrial is not – and this is one of the few times I’ll say a movie became better by embracing such audacity with a vigorous courage that sets out to make alien thrillers fun again, instead of over-serious snoozefests like The Fourth Kind or Alien Abduction.
I’m not sure I’ve ever love-hated a cast more than these assembled baboons, finding characters like the beer-swilling Seth absolutely deplorable at times, while still loving actor Jesse Moss’ transformation into a horrific party animal. While I hated every second of his overblown party antics, it soon dawned on me that having a constantly drunk character meant he could throw ridiculous statements around and act irrational with ease, and actually be justified.
Michael Ironside, playing a pot-growing, red-blooded American, gives us another totally-seen-before character caught up in being the wise old kook who turns out to be right about something unbelievable, but Ironside’s forceful performance plays along nicely with the Vicious Brothers’ tongue-in-cheek tone. Everyone shines while doing absolutely nothing different when compared to past genre copies, from Brittany Allen to Freddie Stroma, but they’re all having so much fun discovering alien wreckage and fearing for their lives. It’s remarkable how much energy plays into a film’s lifespan, and while alien flicks tend to barely register a pulse at times, Extraterrestrial continually thumps to the beat of its own freakish drum.
I’m glad to see the Vicious Brothers returning to form, because Grave Encounters surprised the hell out of me considering how ingenious of a “found footage” rehash it is, and Extraterrestrial strikes the same energized mentality while exploring a genre that’s been beaten six feet below the ground. Alien movies are often hard to master, whether it’s debating how long to hold a creature reveal or when to start the onslaught of action, and while the Vicious Brothers haven’t beamed down the next Independence Day, their “kitchen sink” style of filmmaking creates a genre movie that’s lightyears ahead of so many other little green duds. It’s rather simple actually – if you’re having fun making a movie, chances are that heightened sense of jovial bliss will translate on screen as well, and with that mantra in mind, the Vicious Brothers have an extraterrestrial riot on their hands worth the uncomfortable probing.
Extraterrestrial harkens back to a time when sci-fi movies could be both fun and horrific, finding success thanks to the Vicious Brothers' "no holds barred" filmmaking mentality.