[ 2018 – Ben Young – 96 min ]
The 2018 Netflix sci-fi film Extinction holds the distinction of being one of the films that I only discover by perusing the depths of the app, in what I can only describe as a terrifying gauntlet of finding a movie suitable to watch with my parents. It’s quite a daunting task to find a so-called “good” movie that satisfies the interests of both my discerning parents, and I’m sure many fellow film enthusiasts can relate to this challenge. At the beginning of every movie now, there’s a tense few minutes where I wonder if my mother will hit that pause button and ask if this “gets better” and I drag my phone out to find another candidate, as a movie is tossed to the bin of dismissal. Extinction, I’m glad to report, passed the five minute test, and seemed to hold our collective interest (save for my father, who is inevitably going to fall asleep regardless of a film’s quality).
The star power of Michael Peña and Lizzy Caplan caught my attention and made me choose this film over others. Both of them deliver pretty decent performances here, considering the material they have to work with. There’s a certain tone to this film that would make it understandably discomforting and lacking, and to earn the “b-movie” moniker, but without the inference that the film is “so bad it’s good.” No, this film is just simply good. The premise is a bit uninspired: Pena is a factory worker who suffers from nightmares of an impending alien invasion. His wife (Caplan) is sympathetic, but his refusal to seek help is putting a strain on their relationship and family, as he becomes increasingly distant to his two daughters. I wanted to mention here that he has a waking nightmare too while at work, where he passes out for an indeterminate amount of time, gets up and goes home without any reprimand or really, anyone at work even noticing that he was gone or suffering for any length of time. I can’t discern if this alternate reality represents an accommodating workplace where employees can freely sleep on the job as long as the work gets done or if it comments on apathetic employers and culture.
Regardless, you can quickly see where this thing is going and you would be forgiven for thinking so: I’ve already forgiven myself for dismissing the movie halfway through, as it really does come alive in the last quarter. While I anticipate some level of twist in my b-movie sci-fi, I wasn’t expecting the core themes to really come alive in such a way as they did near the end here. I typically call out science fiction films for their strong openings and weak endings, but I think Extinction here, does the opposite and really impressed me with a strong finish. This could work against the film, I suppose, as it’s a big ask of the audience to ride along as long as they do with such mediocrity until things really pick up, but it was worth the wait.
From a technical aspect, this movie did just fine as well: it maintains a certain low-budget aesthetic throughout, but the special effects are well executed here and the editing doesn’t attempt to mask haphazard action sequences with nauseating camera work. It’s the opposite here, where Pena and Caplan are regular folk: they run, they take cover and they get injured – there’s no impossible feats of dexterity or strength on display, which makes me appreciate the film for being a bit grounded in its presentation.
When compared to much of the sci-fi content lurking in the depths of streaming services, Extinction could have been far worse. Yet, it surpassed my expectations and deserves the 3 out of 5 stars I’m awarding it. There are hidden treasures to be found, and this film might just be one of them.