Not every film opens on thousands of screens (or in theaters at all) as more and more each year make their debuts on various video on demand services. We’ve already looked at a couple of the horror titles opening today, but two other new films aim to deliver VOD thrills this weekend too. They don’t share a genre, but both films feature characters who film part or all of the action.
Default is a hostage drama reminiscent in some ways of Captain Phillips or A Hijacking for the simple reason that it gives serious time to exploring the pirates’ motivations. It’s an airplane instead of a ship, but the bigger difference is that the film is presented in a found footage-ish format as both the hostages and pirates are wielding cameras. Extraterrestrial also drops a group of people into harm’s way, but the danger this time comes from someplace farther away than the African continent. A group of friends spending time at a remote cabin come under attack by alien beings, but as they fight to survive the night they discover that aliens may have an unexpected ally.
Frank Saltzman (Greg Callahan) was once a network anchor at the top of his game, but now he’s little more than a respected journalist doing reports from far-flung locales. His latest story finds him in the Seychelles, but when he and his crew board a jetliner that’s seen better days for the flight home the plane is hijacked on the tarmac. The pirates’ leader, Atlas (David Oyelowo), insists the hostages will be freed if and only if he’s allowed to take part in an interview with Saltzman. The situation escalates as the two men bump heads and ideologies, and soon it’s spiraling out of everyone’s control.
Director Simon Brand and writers Jim Wolfe Jr. and Dan Bence tackle the newly popular “pirate hijack” genre but move the action from the high seas to an airport runway. Their film features the expected clashes and stand-offs between the two sides, but it’s interested in more than simple suspense and action. Atlas has questions for the media, but more than that he wants to educate the West on the assumptions made about the kinds of people who grow up to become terrorists for profit. There’s definitely room for dialogue on the subject and the film succeeds at making some points about what it takes to turn someone into a so-called pirate, but the conversations don’t go deep enough.
The more distracting issue though is the insistence on packaging the film in the found footage format. Technically it’s footage shot on the news crew cameras and others used by the hijackers, but the typical issues remain. The camera POV focuses on reactions instead of the action, and questionable cuts/edits spring up throughout. It serves little purpose, and even its place in the narrative is slight as just because the characters are filming doesn’t mean the viewers have to be subjected to it.
Default has a handful of thrills and moments of real drama, but the core strength of the film – and the biggest reason to watch – is Oyelowo’s raw and layered performance. He’s on the side of “evil” but displays more heart than any of the proper protagonists, and while his motivation and plan get a bit foggy the more they come into view Oyelowo sells it with conviction and intensity. See it for him, and put up with the format issues.
April (Brittany Allen) and Kyle have plans for a quiet weekend at her family’s cabin in the woods – I know, I know – but he surprises her by inviting along a few of their mutual friends. The group isn’t there very long before a fiery object streaks across the night sky and crashes into the nearby woods. They head out to investigate and discover a disc-shaped object with strangely-shaped footprints leading away from the craft. The owner of the feet in question makes an appearance back at the house and is gunned down for its troubles, but that act of aggression triggers an all out assault as the friends discover the creature may not have come alone.
The Vicious Brothers previously entered the genre fray with Grave Encounters and its sequel, but while both of those films were fully found footage their latest only toys with the format briefly before settling for a traditional film. It’s unsurprisingly for the best as even the short segments that are captured on a digicam annoy and distract plenty. The rest of the film actually looks quite good too making this an attractive film in the visual sense thanks to some well-crafted sequences and production design.
Less successful is the script which is littered with poor dialogue choices and a handful of scenes in need of a second thought and pass by the writers. Characters behave questionably even before the danger settles in – who walks into a marijuana den in the middle of the woods and thinks it’s okay to pocket a few baggies? – but the bigger troubles come later. The film kills off its only sympathetic character in a scene that changes the rules of ability in a big way only to never revisit the concept, and another sequence sees this very serious thriller explore the cliche of anal probes with a visual that’s meant to disturb but instead only amuses.
The generically-titled Extraterrestrial was previously saddled with the only slightly better The Visitors, but regardless of the title the film remains a minor achievement. There’s no denying it’s a nice change from the usual supernatural shenanigans, but the characters, actions and denouement leave a bit too much to be desired. If you absolutely need a new horror flick to watch on VOD this week choose Housebound. If you need a second one though…
Default opens on demand and in limited theatrical release today, and Extraterrestrial opens on VOD.