Film * Ben Young * Aliens. OR ARE THEY. Yes, technically. * 2018
I’ve been remiss. It seems that over the last few months, Netflix has been publishing some sort of apocalyptic-themed movie every other week and I’ve not watched any of them. What is this blog even for, then? So, I apologize, and here we are. Now believe it or not, I don’t live in a vacuum, and so I’ve heard that a bunch of these have been going up on the service of late, and I’ve also heard that the median quality of these things is somewhere around “ferociously mediocre.” That’s fine, they can’t all be superstars. The real question was, where to start? I’ll get to most of them eventually, but it’s been a hot second since I’ve watched an alien invasion flick, and what do we have here but Extinction, which promises exactly what I was looking for. Plus, the trailer promised some wrinkles to the worn territory of alien invasion stories, shifting the initial focus to the protagonist’s state of mind rather than external cues before the aliens show up and start wrecking shit.
So, there’s a couple of things to understand about Extinction before firing it up. First and probably most importantly, this is a modern B-movie. Denoting it such is not a burn, but should serve as a clue to adjust your expectations accordingly. That said, B-movies have come a long way since Plan 9 from Outer Space. The CGI effects are bad, but not excruciatingly awful. The acting is mostly fine. The script is coherent. It’s mostly that Extinction lacks the polish that bigger movies have, and that’s fine. Frankly, the budget and scope of this movie are basically where they need to be for the story being told. The second thing to know is that while Extinction isn’t actually very good, I still had fun watching it. There were enough cool ideas and surprising moments to make the 90 minutes worthwhile. Again, this is all about expectations. If you’re looking for something the size and scope of a big budget tentpole flick, then you will be disappointed. If you want to watch a bunch of goofs run around and fight aliens, then Extinction’s got you.
The first thirty minutes of the movie are probably the worst thirty minutes of Extinction, but it’s not totally the fault of the script. It’s just how these movies work. Pretty much any disaster movie begins the same way, with a relatively slow introduction to the characters and the world. Peter is a family man who has been spending too much time at work, and his wife and two daughters are bummed about it. Peter’s also been having these terrible nightmares which prevent him from getting a good night’s sleep and is otherwise donking up his domestic and professional life. In these dreams, he’s witnessing a massive alien invasion that ends up with him fighting for his life to protect his family. His wife, Alice, and his boss try to convince him to go see a therapist to work through these issues, but Peter is fairly adamant to fix it himself. Obviously, a movie like this does not bother to hide what it is, so we clearly know an invasion is imminent. The only real question is why Peter seems to be seeing into the future. Well, that question is answered, because Extinction is a movie with a twist, but I’ll get to that after the break. In the meantime, if you want a cheesy, fun B-movie, by all means check this out.
Once Extinction has established its main characters, it finally dispenses with the pretense of being anything other than a disaster movie. Alice is having a dinner party in order to hang out with some friends instead of her family for once. I don’t appreciate the movie perpetuating the myth that adults have friends, but whatever. Alice is having an okay night, but Peter is being a buzzkill as usual, and she’s especially pissed at him because he bailed on his therapy appointment. I guess she’s having a party celebrating a promotion at her job at the, uh, city planning commission? She’s now in charge of the city’s network of mysterious tunnels, which is a weird thing to be in charge of. Peter works at a “factory,” although it appears his entire job is plugging and unplugging a large cable. For this, the family lives in this huge apartment with a giant fucking balcony overlooking the skyline of the future-city they live in. Anyway, poor Peter, even his kids are mad at him because he keeps bailing on them. However, before we know it, Peter is vindicated because the aliens finally show up and start blowing shit up and murdering people.
The middle bit of the film is once again fairly standard disaster movie fare. The aliens are bombing buildings, but also sending out extermination teams to mop up. They’re green, hissy aliens with weird bubbles on their armor, but other than that they’re humanoid. They die. Peter and Alice team up and beat the shit out of one while their otherwise useless kids bleat and whimper in the corner. The youngest girl, Lucy, is especially prone to putting herself in grave danger and threatening the family as a whole. Look, they’re child actors. I don’t know what you’re expecting. They’re in the movie to up the stakes, pretty much. Anyway, Peter takes charge and starts herding his family and the neighbors up to the roof and through the corridors before deciding to use Alice’s convenient position as Mysterious Tunnel Manager to find an underground passage to Peter’s Cable Factory, where safety will happen. I’m being a bit glib here, but really Extinction does a pretty decent job of riding that line between taking itself too seriously and not taking itself seriously enough. I dunno, I found this fun, your mileage may vary.
Now we get to the narrative twist. It’s something I found mildly surprising, but ultimately disappointing. I think? I will admit to being fairly bad at predicting twist endings and figuring out mysteries ahead of time. I think part of this is my willingness to set my thinky-brain aside while I’m enjoying a story. Usually I’m content to let the story move at its own pace and if it feels the need to set up a plot twist or make a shocking revelation I’m happy to let it do so. That said, Extinction makes it clear from the beginning that something is up. Peter’s ability to remember forward is kind of a red herring, since it turns out he’s actually just recovering memories and they just happen to resemble the current moment. Eventually, Peter disarms an alien and, gasp, it’s a human. That I kind of saw coming. What I didn’t expect was for Extinction to turn into a movie about robots. Androids. AI synthetics. Whatever. When it transpires that Peter and his entire family are part of a society of synthetic life forms who have collectively had their memories erased, I can’t help but feel that it wasn’t entirely earned.
It’s a cool idea, though, to the point where I wish Extinction didn’t rely on the plot twist element to reserve the idea for a last-minute exposition dump. At the very least, the fact that they’re all synthetics makes some sense in retrospect. It explains why the society full of office parks and Cord Factories seemed off-kilter. It explains why the children are in full makeup, like weird little hipster dolls, the entire movie. If they’re all synthetic life-forms modelling their behavior on the humans who created them, it makes sense that there will be an artifice to how they live those lives. It also makes sense that the synthetics would fight genocide with genocide. The humans tried to purge them, failed, and ended up on Mars or some shit. Now the humans are back in their unexplained alien guise to take their world back. The movie ends with a new war between the synthetics and the humans just beginning. I don’t know that anything Extinction presents has me dying to return to this world, but once again, it was a fun little bit of B-movie silliness that I had a good time with.