The inevitable nubile teens at the inevitable cabin in the woods fall prey to a different kind of horror in “Extraterrestrial,” though most of the Vicious Brothers’ feature plays like pretty standard slasher fare. It’s in the final act that the pic becomes more ambitious and interesting, though not quite enough to lift the whole from decent-time-filler status to something more inspired. Like the duo’s prior “Grave Encounters” movies, this is a well-crafted, watchable genre effort short on novel ideas and distinctive dialogue/character writing. Already out on VOD, it’s opening in 10 U.S. markets this Friday, and should do moderately well in various formats.
After the usual prologue providing a first, never-seen-again victim, this one a panicked young woman (Emily Perkins) fleeing an unseen force outside a rural gas station, we’re introduced to protags that never develop much beyond their stereotype-fulfilling first impressions. There’s the designated lead/Final Girl, April (Brittany Allen), a college student who’s taking the weekend to clean out her divorced parents’ country getaway before it’s sold. She’s planning on spending that time alone with longtime b.f. Kyle (Freddie Stroma), as she has some important news to tell him. But for reasons that make no sense besides providing the titular menace with more cannon fodder, he surprises her by inviting along others: obnoxious Seth (Jesse Moss), blonde airhead Lex (Anja Savcic) and stoner Mel (Melanie Papalia), plus somebody’s Irish setter.
After a long drive, during which Seth’s asinine antics attract the attention of area police (Gil Bellows), the quintet settle in for some serious partying — or at least the three tag-alongs do, while April and Kyle try to have a serious discussion about the future of their relationship. The ensuing argument is interrupted by a strange sight in the night sky that turns out to be, apparently, a crashed UFO. Spooked, the youths attempt to flee, only to find the sole road back to civilization blocked. Soon they react to a “close encounter” in terms that seriously tick off the otherwordly visitors. Eventually enlisting help from a pot-farming, heavily armed older local (Michael Ironside), they try to fight back, but are wildly overmatched.
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Until the 80-minute mark, “Extraterrestrial” is a slick, pacey but not particularly scary or surprising not-quite-slasher movie, the only real difference being that instead of getting bloodily offed, the characters mostly get snatched by their abductors (depicted as the standard humanoid “gray aliens” of UFO lore) to a fate unknown. Unknown until that mark, that is: The pic then makes a welcome leap, allowing for some nicely designed and executed larger-scale f/x work. Unfortunately, this too-brief, visually impressive (if not all that inventive, narrative-wise) interlude is followed by a coda that’s strenuously sentimental in ways the script hasn’t remotely earned the right to exploit. That attempt at depth is further undercut by a gimmicky final shot scored to a jokey retro song choice.
Performances are solid enough, but as with Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz’s two “Grave Encounters” scripts, the characters as written aren’t interesting enough to up the pic’s game from genre formula. Here, again, they spend a lot of time stepping on each other’s (and our) nerves, so when the filmmakers suddenly expect us to care about them, they’re asking for too much.
Nonetheless, the widescreen film is good-looking and entertaining, if unmemorable. Given that nearly all its intrigue is crowded into the last reel (and just tentatively explored), there’s certainly room for a sequel — hopefully one that will move forward from rather than just basically repeating its predecessor’s basic elements, as the disappointing “Grave Encounters 2” (which the duo only wrote) did. Assembly is polished.