It’s midnight in the Podunk town of Echo Lake as a terrified woman bangs on the door of a gas station, begging to use the phone. When the clerk refuses to let her in, she calls 911 from an outside payphone, telling the operator “They took my boys.” Moments later, the phone booth is sucked into the night sky, the woman still inside it – and then crashes back to earth in a splinter of metal and glass.
You half expect to hear “Doo-doo-doo-doo”, but this isn’t The X-Files: it’s Extraterrestial, the Vicious Brothers’ follow-up to their 2011 ‘found footage’ horror Grave Encounters, in which a group of filmmakers holed themselves up in a haunted insane asylum, and got more than they bargained for (but exactly what they deserved). Grave Encounters owed an enormous debt to every found footage film that came before it, and the same is true of Extraterrestrial: it doesn’t really contain a single original idea, but it’s put together with skill – not, I should point out, in a found footage format – and is arguably the most enjoyable of the recent run of UFO-themed horror films. Some of those films have an is-it-or-isn’t-it element which makes one wonder if there really are aliens in them thar hills, and one of the most likable things about Extraterrestrial is that it wastes no time playing pretend: the aliens are real, bug-eyed monsters (with a traditional Roswell-style look), and they ride around in a saucer-like ship with lots of lights and a state-of-the-art tractor beam. Oh, and (fuddy-duddy old traditionalists that they are) they experiment on humans with anal probes – that is, when they’re not mutilating cattle.
Unfortunately, the only thing more familiar than the aliens and their exploits are the thinly-sketched protagonists, a group of twentysomethings (including Defiance’s Brittany Allan, and British actor Freddy Stroma) visiting Echo Lake for the weekend, who are so interchangeable you want them to keep saying each other’s names, so you remember which is which. It helps that the supporting cast includes Gil Bellows as the local Sheriff, and genre veteran Michael Ironside as ageing pothead and conspiracy theorist – who gives the mandatory they’ve-been-coming-here-for-years speech – but neither seems to have been hired for more than a day or two, and don’t get nearly enough scenes before it’s back to the tiresome twentysomethings and their close encounters of the clichéd kind.
It’s only in the film’s closing minutes that things take an interesting turn, and it’s too little, too late. Extraterrestrial is confidently, even skilfully directed, but the derivative script brings the loftily ambitious sci-fi/horror film crashing down to earth. Could it be time to give the demonstrably talented Vicious Brothers (aka Canadian filmmakers Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz) somebody else’s script, so we can see what they do with something a little more original?
Stream or download EXTRATERRESTRIAL in the UK here.