At first glance, Netflix’s Extinction feels like your basic, run of the mill alien invasion movie: Unwitting earthlings scatter and scream as giant tyrannical alien ships descend onto the planet for no apparent reason other than mayhem and conquering. Amidst the chaos, a father wins back the trust of his family by heroically ushering them to safety against all odds. But in this alien movie, things are not as they seem.
The Hollywood alien movie tropes exist as a mask that disguises a much more complicated story. The fact that the story seems really basic on the outside makes the unique elements that much more unexpected. The result is an action-packed sci-fi spectacle that bends your mind, although it unfortunately leaves you emotionally unaffected.
Extinction presents clues that let the audience know that something about this movie is different, the first of which is that it’s set in the future. It’s not glaringly obvious at first, but there are a fair amount of technological markers and style choices that let you know that this is not the era we are living in now. Another clue is the apocalyptic dreams that Michael Peña’s character has. At first, they seem like classic paranoia dreams, but the realism and persistence of the same images appearing to him suggest that this is no mere nightmare.
The film opens with a look into Peter’s (Michael Peña’s) family life. He is married to a woman named Alice, played by Lizzy Caplan, who works for the city and is getting a promotion. She becomes frustrated when her husband refuses to do anything about the chronic nightmares which affect his job and his two daughters. Then, when a bunch of spaceships invade the planet one night, things start blowing up and the vibe gets really chaotic, really quickly.
Extinction is action-packed and fairly thrilling. There are large-scale explosions, giant guns cutting people down, and suspenseful scenes where the main characters should have absolutely died, but miraculously make it. This is a common enough thriller trope, but because the characters’ survival is in question, there’s no denying that it adds a lot of tension. In one such instance, the little girls are huddled in a closet while their parents barricade the door, knowing that an alien will soon try to break in and kill them. This is one of the most suspenseful scenes in the film because even though the situation is one that survivors of an apocalypse often seem to find themselves in, it feels really improbable that they will all survive, and when they do, there’s a good reason for it.
Michael Peña and Lizzy Caplan give excellent performances, both as everyday working people who want the best for their family, and as parents who are forced to step up after being thrown into extraordinarily violent circumstances. The mundanity of their marriage makes the sci-fi elements of the film stand out, but at times, the suspense of precarious situations is undermined by the distance felt between the two.
Peter and Alice are supposed to be married, but they are barely ever seen showing any affection toward each other, or even saying something nice about each other. Granted, they are supposed to be having some problems, but even a fight would have shown some spark between them. Instead, they appear like co-workers; fond of each other, but lacking chemistry. Even in a scene where one of them has been badly hurt, there is no talk about love, or how one wants the other to live. It’s all about protecting the kids, as though it wouldn’t even matter if one of them died. This means that the bulk of the film’s emotional draw rests on the shoulders of two little girls.
Adorable children in peril is an effective way to elicit sympathy, but it’s also incredibly easy. If the central reason you want these people to survive is because their kids are cute, the emotional impact is shallow, which isn’t helped by how little we know about the girls’ characters. Young actors Erica Tremblay and Amelia Crouch do the best with what they’ve been given, but the writing doesn’t offer much to work with. Most of their lines just express fear, and without proper character development, it’s difficult to turn that into a consequential performance.
Extinction is an exciting movie with a good twist that’s great for a lot of reasons, but lacks emotional depth. The movie’s ability to subvert the tropes of the genre is by far the coolest part, and there’s some great suspense and exciting action. The downside is that the family is relatable but not much more than that. The sympathy you feel for them is almost entirely because they have two daughters, which can cheapen the impact of the suspense. Even though a greater sense of emotional investment would have made the movie more gripping, it’s still really entertaining and offers creative ways to make you concerned for the future of the human race.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Exciting Action||Lack of Character Development|
|Trippy Sci-Fi Elements||Missing Sense of Emotional Investment|