The streaming giant’s latest original film has more originality going for it than usual.
Netflix’s history with science fiction has been spotty at best. Bright, The Cloverfield Paradox, Mute…all have seduced audiences with the ease of access Netflix affords; all have fallen, to say the least, short as hell. (And that’s just the movies—let’s not even get started on Altered Carbon.)
Which is why it was a pleasant surprise to hear from several people that Extinction, the latest offering from the service, is actually pretty good! Could it possibly be, after all these months of hurt, that Netflix had found a winner?
Extinction is straightforward until it isn’t. Michael Peña plays Peter, a factory custodian in the near future, who is plagued by visions of a gruesome alien invasion. His relationship with his wife, Alice (Lizzy Caplan), becomes strained, his work suffers, and the dreams get weirder. Then, one night, the lights appear in the sky and buildings start exploding.
The first 30 minutes aren’t going to blow you away, but what sets Extinction apart are the deft turns the story takes once we think all the pieces are in place. A couple of game-changing twists come thick and fast at the halfway point, and suddenly we’re watching an entirely different movie from the one we started with. At face value, neither of the premises we’re given is all that interesting; each half of Extinction could very well function as a B episode of Electric Dreams or whatever. The craft that goes into not only surprising us but using that surprise to advance the emotional stakes of the movie elevates the story to a little more than just the sum of its parts. This is not a twist for twist’s sake.
That isn’t to say Extinction doesn’t have its pitfalls. Peña feels miscast, especially after such an impressive turn in last month’s Ant-Man and the Wasp. His softly delivered incredulity is endearing but out of place in a movie not willing to stray from seriousness. Lizzy Caplan is, as ever, very good but is asked little of. The low-key best performance comes from Happy Death Day‘s Israel Broussard, who plays a soldier fighting against this sudden invasion and who comes to realize the nature of the war he’s been drafted to fight in is far removed from the reality. There is some surprisingly effective and cutting commentary on colonialism and class in the back half of Extinction, if you want to read it that way.
With Extinction, Netflix hasn’t delivered the next great genre piece, but it has hit upon a refreshingly original and well-realized sci-fi concept. More of this, please. But also give Peña more to do next time, too.