Saturday, July 28, 2018

On Netflix: EXTINCTION (2018)

(US - 2018)

Directed by Ben Young. Written by Spenser Cohen and Brad Caleb Kane. Cast: Michael Pena, Lizzy Caplan, Israel Broussard, Mike Colter, Emma Booth, Lex Shrapnel, Amelia Crouch, Erica Tremblay, Lilly Aspell. (Unrated, 95 mins)

Originally set to be given a nationwide rollout in theaters by Universal in January 2018, the apocalyptic sci-fi saga EXTINCTION was pulled from the schedule two months prior to its release without explanation. In the tradition of other A-list sci-fi offspring rejected by their mothers--Universal's SPECTRAL, Paramount's THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX--the film was sold to Netflix and is finally debuting as a Netflix Original. 2016's ambitious and unexpectedly imaginative SPECTRAL was better than Universal's treatment of it would lead you to expect, but EXTINCTION is a muddled mess from the start. In a vaguely defined near-future, factory maintenance worker Peter (a bland Michael Pena) is plagued by recurring nightmares of an alien invasion, so troubled by them that he's growing preoccupied and distant from his concerned wife Alice (Lizzy Caplan) and frustrated daughters Hanna (Amelia Crouch) and Lucy (Erica Tremblay, younger sister of ROOM's Jacob Tremblay). He falls asleep at work and starts seeing mysterious light formations in the sky, but no one believes him and his seemingly skeptical but sympathetic boss (Mike Colter) suggests he see a doctor. While entertaining some friends (Emma Booth and Lex Shrapnel, who may have the greatest name ever) the next evening, the alien invasion begins, with buildings brought down and black-helmeted soldiers marching through their high-rise mowing down everyone. After their friends are killed in the mayhem, Peter, Alice, and the girls manage to escape to safety in a secret tunnel beneath the industrial complex where he's employed, a place he only knows exists because he saw it in one of his nightmares.

It's shortly after this point, with the introduction of an alien soldier calling itself "Miles" (Israel Broussard), that EXTINCTION shifts gears and heads into a different direction. This twist is intriguing enough--and puts the film firmly in the formulaic Netflix wheelhouse of "feature-length BLACK MIRROR episode"--that it makes you wonder why the first hour was basically pissed away with what could've easily been titled SKYLINE: EXTINCTION. The credited screenwriters are Spenser Cohen and Brad Caleb Kane, with an earlier Cohen draft circulating around Hollywood as far back as 2013. The extent of which Cohen's and/or Kane's work made it into the finished movie isn't clear, but it's an open secret that the script was almost completely reworked by an uncredited Eric Heisserer, who was nominated for an Oscar for his ARRIVAL screenplay. There's certainly a "too many cooks in the kitchen" feel to what EXTINCTION is trying to accomplish as it juggles too many Philip K. Dick concepts (you'll spot the BLADE RUNNER and TOTAL RECALL elements) while mostly serving as yet another rote CGI destructiongasm. The visual effects aren't really up to par for a major-studio production, and director Ben Young (2016's acclaimed HOUNDS OF LOVE) does the film no favors by opting to shoot much of the first hour in murky darkness with the action conveyed mostly in incoherent quick cuts. The twist around the hour mark is actually pretty good, and for about a 20-minute stretch, EXTINCTION seems dangerously close to getting its shit together. Unfortunately, it fizzles out with a huge, clumsy exposition dump in the closing minutes that's completely unsatisfying, and like Netflix's recent dud HOW IT ENDS, makes the entire project feel like a tanked series pilot. There's little mystery as to why Universal kicked this one to the curb and why Netflix figured it would fit right in with their unofficial mission statement of offering as many thoroughly disposable and instantly forgotten sci-fi mediocrities as possible. Do give SPECTRAL a whirl, though. That one's worth a look.

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