Extraterrestrial (2014) – Review

extraterrestrial

Just in case the Vicious Brothers felt they were risking becoming typecast as supernatural found-footage directors after their incredibly well-received Grave Encounters and its sequel they took a sudden turn with this movie, a mostly traditionally-shot Sci-Fi/horror mashup pitting the standard troupe of teenagers partying in a cabin in the woods against vicious (heh) alien invaders.

Like moths, actors are attracted to blue lights

That’s about all there is to say about the setup of the movie. The opening scene sets the tone pretty firmly; with incredible visual flair a poor sod is zapped away by some unknown presence, leaving local police baffled, especially since the phone box disintegrated with him. This strong sense of visuals carries through the movie with no end of red and blue lights and a very modern glossy sheen to everything, it looks like something the 1980’s could only have dreamed of. Once we finally see them fully the design of the aliens is basically the standard “alien” trope, nothing particularly original, but this is often the point of the movie in my opinion; so many elements are throwbacks to standard tropes of the Sci-Fi and horror genres, it’s doesn’t seem like an entirely original movie was the aim, more a unique blend of the two genres in their purest forms – a cinematic smoothie. This could be seen as a strength or a weakness for different people but for me the result was such a bizarre, jarring experience that I actually loved every minute of it.

It’s like this, but imagine Drew Barrymore getting her face torn off in 1.5 seconds

It jumps wildly from “cabin in the woods” slasher to government conspiracy to all-out alien action, with characters and tropes of each genre, often interacting with each other with such dissonant tones and various concurrent plot threads that could never belong together in the same movie unless it was helmed by the gleeful, almost stubborn persistence that the Vicious Brothers have shown here. As such it’s not always easy to determine what will happen next – it could be argued that much of the plot is cliched with hindsight but the question remains which genre’s cliches the next plot twist will adhere to! The main cast are perfectly likeable; performances aren’t stand-out but neither are they awful; and certain characters are given some heartfelt backstories and relations that are often fairly predictable but still give a welcome human depth to the plot and characters.

“Terribly sorry to interrupt your soirée, but someone appears to have left their headlights on”

I’m sure this isn’t a film for everyone – some other reviews I’ve read confirm this, but for me it was a consistently entertaining ride and I would happily watch it again. While this is of course far from the first Sci-Fi-Horror, and no question far from the best (though it has some extremely high competition against Alien & co.), it is quite unique in the way it merges the two genres as separate entities rather than settling on some middle ground. As would be expected for the established horror directors the horror elements of this movie are very effective – plenty of tense cat & mouse sequences, a number of decent scares and some brutal gore should satisfy any horror fiend who doesn’t mind a film that plays on the genre conventions & doesn’t always take itself too seriously.

7/10

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Grave Encounters (2011) – Review

grave_encounters

I avoid being too specific regarding particular plot points, but there are minor spoilers in this review. I think I’m the last horror fan who hasn’t seen this film anyway so it shouldn’t matter!

Found footage divides opinion in the horror community; some see it is a lazy, cheap way to avoid making a “proper” horror movie or rue the seasickness-inducing camerawork where others love the realism and involvement it can create. It has certainly been abused repeatedly, resulting in what seems an acceptable standard where nothing happens for 45 minutes before a few unexplained events occur and action scenes consist of a camera being thrown around. However, I think it’s unfair to tarnish the entire genre, because among the awful entries such as the aptly-named Atrocious, the 76 Paranormal Activity movies, and those nondescript ones that always appear in Tesco’s Bargain Chart with the same blue & silver filter on their box art, there have been some excellent uses of the style in the V/H/S shorts, and some genuinely brilliant found footage movies such as [REC] 1 & 2, and Cloverfield. The Vicious Brothers’ Grave Encounters is one of these found footage films, but I never got round to watching it despite hearing from everywhere that it was one of the top ones of the genre. I approached cautiously, wondering whether this would indeed find itself on the esteemed list of “found footage films that aren’t terrible”.

In the movie, Grave Encounters is a new ghost-hunting TV series, filming it’s sixth (and apparently final) episode in an abandoned asylum. Opening with a delightfully ham-fisted sequence of a TV Producer being interviewed about the footage we’re due to see, telling us straight to the camera that “THIS IS NOT A MOVIE” and so on, it’s hard to tell whether it’s intentionally funny or a misguided attempt at tension building. Soon into the main part of the movie however, it’s clear there’s a sharp sense of humor running underneath. Subtle moments between the crew and various background actions are not just comic relief though, they lend a real authenticity to the film & it’s characters. The cast & directors achieve a rare feat here – not just for found footage, but for horror in general – every character is believable and likeable. It’s true here that very little actually happens for the first 30 minutes or so but it’s still compelling to watch for the above reasons.

It gets scarier than this.

With so much to be said about the funny side of the film, it may sound like it forgets it’s supposed to be a horror. But that is far from true: a real sense of dread builds up throughout this first part. It’s hard to say exactly where it comes from, but it’s ever present that something isn’t right and I found myself nervously eyeing up every door and window whenever the film cut to the static night-vision cameras positioned around the asylum. It goes without saying that their plan to film an episode & get out does eventually go terribly wrong, and it’s here that the asylum takes on a brilliantly claustrophobic, labyrinthine quality, the cast evoke a tangible feeling of despair & desperation, and some incredibly effective scares with pretty horrific imagery keep the tension at breaking point, even managing to distract from a few brief glimpses of rather ropey CGI. It’s all building beautifully towards a final reveal. A final reveal that never arrives.

There are nicer ways to leave your other half a message in the morning.

The last act of this film is where it let me down unfortunately. Some big questions are opened up & no explanations are offered, with the final sequences dissipating much of the tension and a final scare that isn’t all that scary. I’m all for a film letting us decide for ourselves if it doesn’t want to spoon-feed the audience, but this time it didn’t work for me. The found-footage format doesn’t allow the explanation to be some sort of madness on the character’s part as I feel is hinted towards because the whole point is we are seeing these things happening. It leaves the only real conclusion for every loose end to be “ghosts did it” which isn’t quite enough for me. It’s clear with hindsight that this film isn’t meant to be looked at so literally, there’s a lot to be said about how the events & fates of certain characters relate to the historical use of the building in quite a powerful allegorical manner. At the very least, this is two thirds of a fantastic movie; everything is done right until the closing 10 minutes, and an otherwise slightly disappointing last act still leaves us to think about some important issues. It either addresses or steers clear of many of the issues made about found footage movies, so it remains a great example of how the genre can be done well. And you won’t even get motion sickness from watching it.

8/10