In a crowded “undead” genre that includes infected humans, zombies and various, nightmarish end-of-the-world monsters, Miguel Ángel Vivas’ new film Extinction offers something different. Instead of the apocalyptic action of World War Z or 28 Days Later, or the lumbering portent of any number of zombie films, Vivas instead centres on a small, isolated human struggle.
Following undisclosed cataclysmic events that began with the onset of World War III, the world ended. Miles from anywhere, two men, one with a daughter, struggle to survive in ice age conditions while coming to terms with their own distinctly frosty relationship. Forgotten by society, and even by the dystopian creatures that now roam the Earth, they have settled on some form of existence.
Extinction is primarily a character piece, with homemaker Jack (Jeffrey Donovan) doing his best to bring up a headstrong daughter, Lu (Quinn McColgan), who has never been able to set foot outside their fortified compound. “Neighbour” Patrick (Matthew Fox), whose history with Jack is unknown but important enough to have generated real hatred between them, lives across the “street” in his own wire-fenced stockade. Interestingly, although you have some indication of the secret in the men’s past, you are never sure whose side to be on. As more becomes clear you empathise with both and, while not necessarily being able to fully endorse either’s actions, you do understand them.
The script, performances and direction are all impressive, giving tension filled-life to the stark existence of this dysfunctional family. Issues are on the surface but never dealt with, resulting in fragmented relations between Jack and his daughter, with Patrick as a reluctant antagonist. The issue is that these tensions seem to last for a very, very long time without resolution, even when a forced “supper” takes place. Perhaps it was the filmmakers’ intention to contrast the sense of abandonment the characters feel; isolated and alone in a freezing world with the barrenness of the landscapes? If so, then this is successful, but at the expense of developing the narrative and moving the film along with any sense of pace. Only when the inevitable happens and they come under attack from the creatures does there feel like any real threat. Prior to this you just get the sense that everyone is simply waiting around to die with little hope or thought of what to do.
The creatures themselves are impressive. Not zombies as such, they are bloodthirsty humanoid predators with sight being replaced by enhanced hearing and smell (think the monsters from The Descent with a more vampiric look). Produced by Arturo Balceiro, who worked on Pan’s Labyrinth among other films, they have a unique aesthetic but are vastly underused. Vivas has chosen not to make them superhuman, which is a relief, but also they never feel like the dangerous threat they should be and no indication is given to how dominant a species they now are.
That said, the film is not about the monsters outside so much as the monsters within. Vivas has constructed an intelligent, considered film that deals with the isolation and strained relationships inevitable in the situation the characters find themselves in. It is sad to say then that Extinction just feels a little too slowly paced, resulting in a film that while interesting feels a little too thoughtful for its own good.
EXTINCTION / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MIGUEL ANGEL VIVAS / SCREENPLAY: ALBERTO MARINI, MIGUEL ANGEL VIVAS / STARRING: MATTEW FOX, JEFFREY DONOVAN, QUINN MCCOLGAN, VALERIA VEREAU / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW