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Fantasia 2015 Review: Extinction Fails to Evolve

By  · Published on July 24th, 2015

Vertical Entertainment

Fantasia International Film Festival 2015 runs 7/14–8/4. Follow our coverage here.

Movies concerned with a zombie-like apocalypse are commonplace these days with the usual structure consisting of character introduction, plague outbreak and character survival. Miguel Ángel Vivas’ (Kidnapped) new film Extinction skips act one all together and instead drops viewers directly into the fray on a bus filled with already terrified strangers.

Two buses head towards the promised safety of a military base, but they’re barely out of the small town of Harmony when the transports come under attack. Chaos erupts and our focus is narrowed in on a trio of hopeful survivors – Patrick (Matthew Fox), Jack (Jeffrey Donovan) and Emma (Valeria Vereau) – fighting not only for themselves but also for the newborn in their care. Bloodthirsty creatures tear through the scattered crowd with some of the attacked soon rising again, infected and in search of their own victims, but as quickly as we’ve oriented ourselves the film jumps forward nine years.

The world is now a winter wasteland – presumably unrelated to the infectious outbreak – and Patrick and Jack are neighbors. They live directly across from each other, but both act as if the other doesn’t exist. Patrick makes supply runs, blares rock music on loud speakers and broadcasts a bummer of a podcast in the hopes of finding other survivors. Jack meanwhile is raising his daughter, Lu (Quinn McColgan), as an educated, inquisitive shut-in forbidden from stepping foot beyond the fenced-in yard. All three believe the monsters are long gone, dead like the rest of humanity.

All three are in for a surprise.

Structural rejiggering aside, Extinction plays very much like any number of similar films – most notably I Am Legend and 28 Days Later – but it still features a small handful of memorable scenes and images. Unfortunately though, most of them are in the film’s first thirty minutes. Action is front loaded before giving way to an ill-advised character drama that never really becomes engaging or all that interesting.

The film plays the riff between Patrick and Jack as a fascinating mystery to be doled out across the duration via flashbacks, harsh words and knowing glances, but it’s lessened by two three things. It’s pretty obvious what the issue is, it’s pedestrian and Donovan’s acting feels like he’s running lines for some show on the USA Network. The simmering tension between the men is dull, and it becomes frustratingly so when their inconsequential feud simmers up during life and death situations. It’s simply not memorable enough to hinge an indie drama on, let alone a zombie-infused horror film.

Speaking of indie drama, the film is also hurt by an apparent lack of funds in regard to its production design and visuals. There are some sequences that feel alive and a part of the world, but the vast majority of the film appears to have been shot on sound stages or controlled sets – it rarely looks like the desolate, frozen wasteland it’s trying to be and instead feels very small and artificial. CG backdrops add to the false feeling which ultimately leaves viewers detached from intended intensity.

It’s not all bad news at the end of the world though. Fox’s performance hinges on an impassioned pathos the actor honed across six seasons of Lost, and while it’s easy to see where his character’s been and where he’s going well before the film reveals itself the issue is 100% with the script and direction and not the performer. The practical effects in the film are also quite good as the creatures – both the infected and the long-gestating ones glimpsed above – display a visually effective ferocity. The biggest plus here is McColgan who brings a much needed energy to the film as a child raised to be simultaneously curious and terrified of the world outside.

Extinction stumbles in its efforts to evolve beyond a simple, bloody tale of the zombie apocalypse. Its narrative leans toward the untenable side of melodrama and pushes viewers away when it should be pulling them in for a suspenseful finale.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2015 runs 7/14–8/4. Follow our coverage here.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.