After finishing up another binge of “Community” on Hulu, I sidled over to Netflix to see if there were any good one-off movies that could fill the remaining few hours of my rainy, drizzly day. After scrolling through what felt like an overwhelming amount of movies featuring washed up comedians (looking at you Adam Sandler and David Spade), I caught a trailer for an alien flick starring Michael Peña, Lizzy Caplan, and Mike Colter. I happen to like all three of those actors, so I was sold – I didn’t look up anything about the movie, I just booted it up and settled into the couch.
Going into “Extinction” blind was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while.
The beginning of “Extinction” follows Peña’s character Peter, a maintenance (or maybe engineering?) worker in a government facility, and his struggle with nightmares that keep him up at night. His dreams bring him visions of an imminent alien attack that threatens the safety of his family and the world at large. His wife Alice, played by Caplan, doesn’t believe in his visions and pleads for him to get professional help for the sake of their marriage and their two daughters. And Peter almost does, until he second-guesses his insanity, leaving the clinic before honoring his psychiatric appointment. This ultimately drives a wedge between Peter and his family… until his visions appear to come to fruition and an alien attack strikes the Earth on an extinction-level scale.
Now, none of that should ruin the movie for you, since it’s all presented pretty clearly in the trailer. Unfortunately, if I discuss the plot too much further, I do risk giving some major spoilers away. So, suffice it to say, “Extinction” – from the writer of “Arrival” – turns into an action-packed getaway film for much of the remainder of the movie.
However, there are a number of revelations that turn the movie on its head. Not everything is as it seems and the plot twists change the way you approach both the characters and the movie as a whole. To keep it as general as possible, the movie’s concept post-twist is incredibly compelling – but I couldn’t tell if the timing of the twist itself was off or if the filmmakers simply didn’t pull it off as they had hoped. The “big reveal” felt like it happened way too early on, taking some of the punch out of the reveal and detracting from the thinly-veiled theme of the film. Or perhaps maybe not enough changed after the twist to make it feel impactful, because I did want to see more of the fallout from the reveal. If the filmmakers had given us another half-hour of fleshed out development post-twist, the movie would have benefitted greatly. Nonetheless, I was definitely pleasantly blindsided by the way the movie progressed and it was one of the first times in a long while where I did a “Wait What?” doubletake during a movie.
The acting, meanwhile, was… interesting. The main stars are incredibly accomplished with a decent resume of work. Peña has shown a wide range of acting chops: he’s no stranger to dramatic roles, like playing an LAPD officer in “End of Watch,” nor lighter comedic roles, like Luis in “Ant Man.” However, Peña is almost lifeless in this movie, more or less donning the same emotionless expression for most of the film. Caplan, similarly, is one of my favorite dry-humor comediennes. She was one of my favorite parts of “Party Down” and already had some alien-film experience from “Cloverfield.” But aside from a couple pithy lines here or there, and one badass scene where she beats an alien, I felt like she was vastly underutilized and a bit stiff. Apparently, both performances were supposed to come off that way on purpose – and the actors do succeed in what they were trying to achieve in retrospect (read this interview if you don’t care about spoilers). Unfortunately, it’s hard to appreciate their efforts on a first watch-through because it doesn’t render many of the characters very likeable. For that reason alone, I’m not sure I felt what the filmmakers wanted me to feel throughout the movie.
Overall, though, “Extinction” was a pretty decent watch. I’ve seen some reviews for the movie that are absolutely slamming it and I feel that’s a bit unfair because, some shoddy CGI aside, it’s an engaging movie. It’s not going to win any awards for sure, but it’s a free (included with subscription) movie with some high-pedigree acting and writing. I’d argue that the twist 2/3 through the movie alone makes it worth your time if you can hold off and go in blind. If nothing else, it’s one of the higher-quality Netflix Original Movies I’ve seen in a while – a nice break from Adam Sandler if you’re looking for some mindless Netflix entertainment.