Extraterrestrial abstains from the explicitly meta hijinks of its most immediate spiritual predecessor, the odiously self-satisfied The Cabin in the Woods, but in its own way, it’s just as smart-assed and useless an exercise. The scenario of young people on a weekend trip in a remote cabin is repeated here, one that screenwriters Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, a.k.a. the Vicious Brothers, attempt to complicate to meaningful effect, emphasizing empty characterizations and superficial relationship dilemmas before the alien presence announces itself, forcing our protagonists to utilize their wits and resources against the things that go bump in the night.
Echoing titles as far-ranging as The Evil Dead, The Blob, and Without Warning, Extraterrestrial is a knowing mélange of recognizable genre tropes bordering on shopworn cliché, with little else introduced to the equation to justify its existence. It’s well made in the sense that a computer program might have achieved much of the same artless technical competence without any discernible difference, so lacking in pathos is the film’s heavily relied-upon character drama. From its predictably Dolby-assisted scares to its anonymous visual palette (featuring a camera so uselessly restless you might think Ron Howard was pulling the strings), it’s a film for which the audience almost seems beside the point.
Nevertheless, Extraterrestrial wants very badly to be the next great midnight movie, an intention so apparent in its calculated beats and one-liners that it has the inadvertent effect of highlighting the film’s slick, advertisement-like aesthetics and overwhelming lack of vision. One suspects the filmmakers intended something akin to genre reflexivity in keeping the proceedings so overtly familiar, but with their drab visuals and casually, even callously tossed-off moments of violence (including a death that amounts to nothing more than a gay-panic joke), the effect is not unlike the recent faux-grindhouse output of Robert Rodriguez—lazy at best, anti-human at worst.
The story’s main protagonist, April (Brittany Allen), is a Strong Female Character, but the emphasis on her sense of agency is eventually revealed to be no more than a distraction she just needed some murderous aliens to shake her out of, and just as disingenuous as the film’s lip service to cult appeal. The screenwriters’ chosen pseudonym betrays their simplistic nihilism, an interpretation cemented by a climax that suggests a total misreading of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. The final effect, then, isn’t just cruel, but hollow and insincere, and altogether lacking in the style and energy that made such genre mash-ups as The Return of the Living Dead or even Tucker & Dale vs. Evil so enjoyable.