Extinction movie review: A low-budget alien invasion drama powered by clever writing, strong performances
Despite its low production value, Extinction has the potential to break the long-standing jinx that had been afflicting Netflix’s sci-fi releases.
The human mind is often conditioned to believe in certain facts that it takes for granted. A good example of this is around genres of literature and film. Over the years, we have known what the traits of a thriller film are or roughly what we can expect from a romantic novel. And it is exactly this expectation of ours that creative people sometimes take advantage of and give us some brilliant out-of-the-ordinary, non-formulaic works of cinema and literature – works which refuse to conform to established norms. Director Ben Young’s new alien invasion film Extinction is not exactly an outstanding film, but it comes very close to being one with its surprisingly innovative plot.
Peter is an engineer who has recurring visions and nightmares of unknown enemies launching a mass attack on people in his city. In these dreams, he finds his family coming under immediate threat from these attacks. No one seems to believe him, and his wife Alice asks him to seek medical help, which Peter seems reluctant to do because he fears that the doctors will tell him that it’s all in his head. This becomes a reason for continuous tension between him and his wife, especially because Peter is lost in his thoughts most of the time, and seems to have very little time for his two beautiful daughters, Hanna and Lucy. While Lucy is a toddler and Peter can make it up to her with some effort, the teenaged Hanna keeps growing more and more distant and aloof as the days go by.
Things take an ugly turn when Peter’s vision does come true and he finds himself and his family caught in the middle of an alien attack. The aliens seem to possess sophisticated weaponry, and their spaceships are capable of razing entire blocks of buildings to the ground in a matter of seconds. It is then that Peter realises that he can look into the future, and he uses glimpses of his visions to piece together an escape from the invaders.
To tell you the truth, I had started watching the film with very low expectations – Netflix’s recent run of sci-fi movies have very little to write home about, after all – but that is not the only reason why I was pleasantly surprised by the film. For one, it made me question my own beliefs, and at a philosophical level, it asked me questions to which I did not have ready answers. Sure, it is an entertaining film, but the very fact that it was able to stir my thoughts beyond the surface entertainment – that is something which I found remarkable about the movie. The writing, in particular, is excellent and extremely clever, and all your initial doubts and questions will be resolved if you be patient and remain invested in the film. Which, again, is not a difficult burden of a task, thanks to some strong performances, most noticeable among these being the one by the film’s protagonist.
The ever dependable Michael Pena plays the distressed family man who can’t get a good night’s sleep because of his violent nightmares. Struggling to keep his wits about himself and trying to make sense of his visions, Pena’s character Peter exhibits all the fears and insecurities of an average working class man. There is a certain sense of fatigue and vulnerability that Pena successfully manages to bring to his character, and this makes Peter real – someone who you want to root for. Lizzy Caplan plays Peter’s wife Alice. There are two faces which Alice has – one, which she shows Peter on purpose, the tough one, which chides him and pulls him up for neglecting both his duties as a family man and his duties towards himself as a person; the second is that of a loving and supporting wife, a friend for life, a caring partner who stands rock-steady beside the exhausted Peter. Between the two of them, they present a perfect and relatable picture of how spousal relationships ought to be when things just do not seem to be going right for one of them.
The only thing which did not work for me was the film’s low production value – which, I am perfectly willing to overlook, thanks to the strength of its plot. Some of the special effects look garish, but the overall flow of events more than compensate for the look and feel of the film. What is important to me is that the film has its heart in the right place and that the efforts by its makers show.
Do watch Extinction with an open mind. My only word of advice would be to treat it like a television movie – one with low production budget. Focus on the excellent writing and the performances by the lead pair instead. If you do that, you will eventually realise that the film has the potential to break the long-standing jinx that had been afflicting Netflix’s sci-fi releases over the last several months.
Extinction is currently streaming on Netflix.
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