Not only was Hounds of Love one of the best films of 2016, it is arguably one of the best Australian films of all time. And so it is no surprise that director Ben Young would be courted by Hollywood. What is surprising, however, is that his first venture into the American market would be such a massive, high concept film as Extinction, a movie of such magnitude that most filmmakers of his calibre would have to make several titles to before reaching… and yet here we are.
Michael Peña stars as Peter, a husband and father who suffers from vivid nightmares of humanity being eradicated by an alien enemy. He believes his dreams to be premonitions, however those around him – including his wife – think that the manifestations suggest mental issues that need addressing. It isn’t long before a brutal force descends from the skies and systematically slaughters their entire city. With the city collapsing around them, the family must brave the streets in order to find safety in the basement of Peter’s workplace.
On paper Extinction seems formulaic and, to be honest, that’s how it ends up on screen. Upon face value, we have seen it all before with a story that plays out like a cross between War of the Worlds and 28 Days Later. And with a very strong Phillip K. Dick influence, it presents itself as something more intellectual. The script itself had been lingering on Hollywood’s famous black list for several years with various heavy-weight names attached to direct, and after bouncing from one writer to another it finally landed in Eric Heisserer’s lap. Heisserer’s previous works include The Thing (2012), Lights Out and Arrival, amongst others, and so with his respectable body of work aligning with Young’s penchant for style, they have embraced the familiarity and exploited the tropes in order to give the viewer something fresh with the habitual framework.
The cast is reliable with Peña and Caplan giving dependable turns. Their performances are sound enough to carry the film to the end, although these are mostly forgettable characters. The production compensates the lack of big star power by having an immediately striking atmosphere, effectively presenting a cold and sterile depiction of a future society. The colour palate is grey and dank, and the architecture is rigid and symmetrical. The environment presented is almost Orwellian in its sombre tones, and there is a disconnection at play that makes the drama difficult to grasp. But don’t be fooled, because this somewhat distracting introduction proves to be beneficial in hindsight. What follows is a bold science-fiction thriller that moves along at a cracking pace, providing ample action and a glorious soundscape.
The music is composed by The Newton Brothers, whose score could be described as being akin to an orchestral Nine Inch Nails. Their music is at times overbearing, but when applied considerately it elevates the story and makes for a compelling narrative device. The cinematography by Pedro Luque (Don’t Breathe) has a similar effect. At times overly ambitious, while at times perfectly subtle, the look of the film fluctuates. It is never dull to look at, mind you, and I can’t help but think that much of the film’s aesthetic is diminished by its streaming-service release. Would the movie’s impact be greater had it been presented to audiences in a cinema? I think so.
Universal Pictures have done Extinction (and its audience) a massive disservice by scrapping its theatrical release in favour of a home-entertainment Netflix release, and having seen the same mistake happen with Annihilation and The Cloverfield Paradox, it highlights the bitter-sweet reality that the audience’s support of cinema is dwindling. Yes, platforms like Netflix deliver copious amounts of quality content directly into our homes, but on the other hand nothing compares to the splendour and spectacle of the silver screen.
Nevertheless, Extinction is a reliable entry into the genre and while not without its flaws, it is a handsome and audacious venture that twists the conventions to the point of being unconventional. Young’s Hollywood debut is remarkable considering the modesties of Hounds of Love, and it hopefully marks the first of many more to come. And heck, the upside to the Netflix release is that there is no loss in watching it. If you subscribe to the service, you may as well check it out. No regrets!
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★✩✩
‘Extinction’ is currently available to stream on Netflix – right HERE.