Rectal probes, cattle mutilations, flamethrower-toting government conspiracy cover-up squads, flying saucers that resemble kitchen appliances, and aliens with smooth gray skin and huge black eyes, each shaped like the center of a Venn diagram—nearly every staple of UFO folklore is present and accounted for in Extraterrestrial. Throw in the twentysomethings who behave like suburban teens, the clueless small-town sheriff’s deputy, the lazy middle-of-nowhere convenience store employee, and the Vietnam vet who’s off his rocker, and what you’ve got is a movie of pure, undigested clichés, set to a generic pattern of jump scares and fake-outs. Even the downer ending plays like an unconscious nod to the over-familiarity of the material, with one character declaring that it’s “the same thing we do every time.”
Here, in a very Canadian version of the American South, final girl April (Brittany Allen) goes off to her family’s cabin for the weekend with her boyfriend Kyle (Freddie Stroma) and their assortment of obnoxious friends. They meet the genre movie icon with the two-scene cameo—Michael Ironside, in this case—and guzzle beer around the empty, in-ground pool before spotting a fiery flying saucer crashing into the nearby woods. From there, the movie turns into a paint-by-number monster-in-the-dark movie, its grays—the generic aliens of the popular imagination—indistinguishable from any number of fast-moving, dimly lit ghouls.
Co-writers Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz—who bill themselves as the Vicious Brothers, despite being neither brothers nor especially vicious—first made their name with Grave Encounters, an unabashedly clichéd found-footage flick set in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. Extraterrestrial represents a major leap forward from their debut in terms of baseline technical competence; shot in anamorphic widescreen and distinguished by some blotchy, effectively garish lighting schemes, it at least suggests that Minihan (credited as sole director) can frame a shot. Even the occasional lapses into the found-footage format are slicker and smarter than anything in their debut, most notably during a scene where local cop Murphy (Gil Bellows) stumbles upon a grainy videotape of an earlier abduction.
Of course, it’s never a good sign when the most distinctive thing about a movie is the fact that it’s mostly in focus. Extraterrestrial’s problem isn’t that it’s over-familiar, but that it leans so heavily on the over-familiarity of the material; these are secondhand thrills, designed for the cheers of a midnight audience packed with the least discriminating B-horror buffs.