SYNOPSIS: A father has a recurring dream of losing his family. His nightmare turns into reality when the planet is invaded by a force bent on destruction. Now, fighting for their lives, he comes to realize an unknown strength to keep them safe from harm.
Like ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’, ‘Extinction’ was a movie that was intended to be released in theatres before the studio involved decided to sell it to Netflix – and like its predecessor, it’s not difficult to understand why once you’ve seen the film.
On its surface, this is yet another alien invasion film, albeit centred on Michael Pena and Lizzy Caplan as a couple in a strained marriage with two kids who try to keep their family alive during the mysterious attack. The source of their marital troubles is Pena’s nightmares of the attack before it happens, which causes him to be disoriented and distracted from his family, friends and work. Though his wife urges him to seek help, he seems reluctant to do so, more willing to believe that these dreams portend something dangerous to come than just delusions.
Unsurprisingly, Peter’s (Pena) visions will come true, and slightly less than half an hour into the movie, he and Alice (Caplan) will find themselves face to face with an advanced race descended from the skies intent on wiping them and every other similar living being from the face of the Earth. Indeed, seeing as how these aliens seem interested only in exercising use of their sophisticated weaponry, Peter soon deduces that his dreams were meant to prepare him for the only recourse available – that is, to fight back against the invasion, using the aliens’ own weaponry against them.
It doesn’t take long for you to realise that there is something not quite right about how things are being portrayed. For one, the context in which the proceedings unfold feels frustratingly undefined. Is it some point in the future? If so, what sort of future is it and why does it feel so much like present day? For another, the very people whose fates we are supposed to care about seem curiously distant. Why do none of the characters, whether Peter or Alice or their two daughters, seem likeable or sympathetic? Why do Pena and Caplan seem so disengaged? And last but not least, the pace at which the invasion takes place just seems incredulous. One moment, the aliens are descending in spaceships from the sky; and another, they seem to be everywhere and anywhere, going through the city’s buildings in order to kill off every single living thing in just a matter of minutes.
At this point, we should tell you that there is a major twist at the start of the last act, although we’re not going to spoil it for you here. It does immediately change your perspective of what had happened, and though not quite as clever as that of co-writer Eric Heisserer’s Oscar-nominated ‘Arrival’, still is pretty ingenious. That twist does clear away some of the narrative gaps we mentioned earlier, but not quite enough for you to overlook the script’s obvious logic loopholes and weak characterisation. The same could also be said of Ben Young’s middling direction, which fails to build a world compelling enough for us to believe in or invest emotionally within. Notwithstanding, it is undeniable that the twist comes with it some intriguing moral and ethical questions about a future where AI will no doubt be omnipresent, and how humans and synthetic humans will co-exist.
Ultimately, ‘Extinction’ is a movie with a clever idea in need of much better execution. Had it been released in theatres, it would probably have died an unceremonious death from bad reviews and poor word-of-mouth; yet seen from the comfort of one’s own home, it still manages to be a mildly interesting watch. Like we said earlier, if you’re able to get past the first hour, it does get better from then on, and you may even like it enough to recommend it to a friend as well.
Review by Gabriel Chong