The Vicious Brothers are really only known for their debut feature Grave Encounters, which took haunted house horror to new dimensions with its handheld-camera aesthetic. That film, while certainly deeply indebted to other movies of its kind, was fairly successful because of the Brothers’ tricks and the surprisingly scary moments; from there, they went on to write but not direct Grave Encounters 2, a dreadful piece of shlock that took everything that made the first film good and decided that that was all well and good but let’s do the opposite. Their track record, then, is difficult to gauge based on one film that admittedly banked on the popularity of docu-horror at the time.
They’re back with Extraterrestrial, a film that does not use (too much) shaky-cam footage and instead has a regular narrative. It’s got a lot of bigger names, like Brittany Allen of All My Children, Freddie Stroma of Harry Potter fame, and even a couple cast members from Ginger Snaps. Oh yeah, Michael Ironside also makes an appearance, because must be he owed the Vicious Brothers a favor or something. The film’s also got some flashy special effects, mostly from unique lighting but also thanks to the Brothers’ signature directing style, something akin to guerrilla filmmaking with a lot of handheld shaking and wide angle focusing.
The cast and directing are all on par, and the Vicious Brothers do their thing rather well – though it depends on if the viewer enjoys their hyper-editing and visual effects work. A few times, Extraterrestrial brings back memories of their work on Grave Encounters, adding some handheld footage to the mix without actually using that as a source for the film. But their devotion to sticking with regular filming structure is refreshing, ensuring that they’re not just one-note directors with only the ability to film via shaky-cam.
What doesn’t work so well is the plot, which starts off rudimentary – a group of teens heading out to a cabin in the woods, smoking dope and drinking a lot – and then adds an unoriginal plot about aliens landing during a thunderstorm. The concept at play seems to work at first, because everyone loves a good slasher story with unsuspecting teens; but as Extraterrestrial picks up steam, the cliches begin to fly about like a UFO searching for solid ground in a buffeting windstorm. The Vicious Brothers’ script never manages to get away from things that have been done before and done better; while that seems intentional, it doesn’t make up for Extraterrestrial‘s derivative features.
The alien CGI effects attempt to recreate the body imagery that’s been ingrained in human memory for years; the typical lanky bodies with wide heads are used here, and the Vicious Brothers give the audience quite a few glimpses of these veiny monsters throughout Extraterrestrial. Unfortunately, the shots are used far too often, a choice that leads to more chuckles than real terror. The way the film tries to draw from established generalizations of aliens and their designs feels both like a good throwback and a failure to capitalize on what could have been a more original idea for the film.
But the most egregious abuse of story is the overuse of the romantic subplot between main characters April and Kyle. Their relationship is only solidified early on by the fact that they live with each other and that other people say they’re good together; later, when Kyle proposes, there’s this weird lingering sensation that April has been stringing him along, a development that is suddenly reversed in the film’s final moments when love seems to conquer alien probing. In the film, this is hackneyed in its depiction; in deleted scenes, there’s a reveal from Kyle that he knew about April’s plans, which gives it more substance and probably should have been left in. Either way, the Vicious Brothers inject too much melodrama into the film. Even the payoff at the end of the film, though grim, feels borrowed from other films.
Ultimately, Extraterrestrial is a serviceable film about traditional alien beings that uses quite a few cliches to get its story across. It’s not a poorly made film by far, and in a way it has its charms. But the Vicious Brothers stick to the basics too often, an intentional choice that backfires because of the over-familiarity. It’s watchable, but certainly not out of this world.
The Blu-Ray from Scream Factory comes with either 7.1 or 2.0 surround sound, as well as subtitles (both standard and for the hard-of-hearing) and reversible cover art, as well as slipcover! It’s a nice treatment for the film for sure.
Bonus features are sparse, but there is audio commentary from the Vicious Brothers, Brittany Allen, and Melanie Papilia. Also available is a set of deleted scenes totaling 7 minutes, a nice addition because some of those scenes do add quite a bit to the film. Lastly, we get some trailers and a Making-Of featurette with the Vicious Brothers, again about 7 minutes in length and quickly detailing the idea behind Extraterrestrial. All told, not a bad package for this film.