Director: Ben Young
Cast: Michael Peña, Lizzy Caplan, Israel Broussard, Amelia Crouch, Erica Tremblay, Mike Colter
Here we go with yet another movie that has been relegated to Netflix. ‘Relegated’ might seem like a harsh word to use, but more often than not it suits the movie/series that has been unloaded by a production company (in this case, Universal) onto the popular streaming site rather than going through a larger distributor. It’s of course not always the case (see Annihilation), but in the case of Extinction, did Universal in fact make the right call?
Set some time in the future, Extinction sees patriarch Peter (Peña) suffer from dreams/nightmares that apparently show him events yet to come, events that show the city in which he lives (and possibly the world) under attack. The nature of the attackers and their reason for attacking, however, are unknown to Peter. His wife, Alice (Caplan), is at the end of her tether with Peter’s inability to stick to his word and his habit to let down their children, Hanna (Crouch) and Lucy (Tremblay), all because of the effect his dreams are having on his waking life. Alice is aware of Peter’s dreams and encourages him to seek help from a mental health institution (in this future, a lot more care is given over to mental health and wellbeing, it seems). One evening, when Peter and Alice have some friends over, the attack that occurs in Peter’s dreams happens for real, and finally Alice believes his premonitions. Peter must then do all he can to keep his family safe and survive the attack, which we assume is conducted by extra-terrestrials.
Possibly the first thing to note about Extinction is that, fundamentally, it’s nothing new. The premise is a well-worn sci-fi oldie, and attempting to present it in a new light is challenging: the world coming under attack from an unknown (at least at first) species and people trying to find a way to survive and hopefully fight back is quite a standard story. Plot-wise, again, there isn’t anything that’s particularly different from many other sci-fi/action films – survival, fighting for something, the grey area between right and wrong, and, of course, some kind of a twist. Normally mentioning a twist isn’t the done thing, as it can spoil the enjoyment to an extent, however without said twist this film would likely have been much worse off, so in this case it is worth mentioning that there is one. Otherwise, you may lose interest very quickly.
The plot itself is very loose. There’s not really a whole lot to grab on to. It could very well have done with being a short film, as everything moves pretty quickly and there’s no build up to really make you invest in the characters and their plight, which sticks with you the entire way through (though even a short film can manage to hit those important points). There’s no apparent character development except for Peter, and even then it’s ever so slight. This could be chalked up to the twist of the film, but that’s really grasping at straws. Part of the twist itself is also highly predictable as the film really gets underway (after about thirty minutes, perhaps sooner for the more cynical and adept at smelling a twist a mile away), but the other half isn’t quite so obvious, as there aren’t any clues to really hint at it. Unfortunately this other part to the twist isn’t all that ground-breaking, but at least it’s some kind of surprise that provides a dying screenplay with a defibrillator.
Performance-wise, Michael Peña was probably the only actor in the film to really stretch himself and make the best of a lacking script. As a father figure he’s quite endearing, and proves that he can lead a film, if only a small one. In contrast, the biggest disappointment of the film is Lizzy Caplan’s role – the character of Alice does not live up to Caplan’s performance capabilities. From Mean Girls to Cloverfield, Now You See Me 2 to The Disaster Artist, she’s a fantastic and often fun actress, and this film does not provide her with any depth or real character to get her teeth in to. Audiences may not be able to stop themselves from comparing Extinction to Cloverfield as it is, as there are numerous similarities, and this is only exacerbated by Caplan’s appearance. Her character is mother to two children, and Crouch and Tremblay (sister of young actor Jacob Tremblay) as the two youngsters also do as well as they can, with Crouch providing a slightly stronger performance than that of her onscreen sibling.
As far as sci-fi/actions films go, Extinction, as you may have cottoned on to, is nothing new. Director Ben Young does a very basic and, to be blunt, average job of a genre that other filmmakers have excelled at. Production companies don’t always make the right call when using Netflix as a distributor, but in this case, it was the right way to go. It would likely not have performed well in cinemas. The screenplay itself was written by two people who didn’t seem to have much in the way of sci-fi writing experience, which might be why the film plays out more like an homage to greater sci-fi movies rather than boasting its own unique story or overall mise-en-scène: according to their IMDb pages, Spenser Cohen has very little writing credited to him prior to Extinction, and Brad Kane (the very chap who provided Aladdin’s singing voice in the Disney films) has but a small amount himself. It’s plain to see that the idea they had for Extinction was to take something well-known and twist it up, but it could have done with more of that across the plot rather than baked within the twist. That’s the upside of writing sci-fi: anything is possible. It’s a genre that, although most follow the rules of science more often than not, can go anywhere. It’s just a shame that that was not the case for Extinction. If Cohen and Kane are to ever reconvene for something similar, hopefully this will have been a learning curve and they can really take their time with something in the future, a future where anything can happen.