Extinction: Netflix's Twisty Alien Invasion Sci-Fi Explained

Michael Pena and Lizzy Caplan in Extinction

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS for Extinction ahead


In Netflix's new original sci-fi film, Extinction, Michael Peña plays a man plagued by visions of an alien invasion, who then finds his dreams brought horribly to life as he and his family try to survive the genocide. Directed by Ben Young, Extinction at first seems like a typical invasion movie along the lines of Cloverfield or War of the Worlds, but a mid-movie twist reveals that there's more to the story than meets the eye.

For the first twenty minutes of the movie, Peña's character, Peter, struggles to perform at his job and spend enough time with his family as he experiences blackouts and flashes of terrifying scenes: lights in the sky, people being gunned down in the streets, and his daughters crying next to two unidentified dead bodies. Peter goes for an appointment at the Whole Life Wellness Center, but in the waiting room he meets a man who rants at him about how the doctors are erasing their thoughts, because "they don't want us to know what's coming." Unnerved, Peter leaves before his appointment begins. That same night, during a party at his apartment, the invasion begins for real.

Related: Extinction Trailer: Michael Peña Is The Key To Earth's Survival

After descending from the heavens in bizarre-looking spaceships to fire upon people from the sky and blow up buildings, the aliens then get boots on the ground (so to speak) to seek out and destroy the survivors. As Peter tries to get his wife, Alice (Lizzy Caplan) and two daughters Hanna (Amelia Crouch) and Lucy (Erica Tremblay) to safety, he steals a gun off one of the aliens - not realizing that the alien can use it to trace them. The family descends into the tunnels below the city, but just as they get underground Alice is injured in an explosion. As she loses consciousness, the alien catches up to them and he and Peter fight fiercely until finally the alien's helmet is smashed to reveal... a human soldier.

Yes, the big twist of Extinction is that the "aliens" are actually humans, while Peter, his family, and everyone else on Earth are robots. Peter and Lizzy were originally maintenance robots, whose romance was sparked amid a rising tide of anti-robot sentiment. The visions that Peter has been having weren't premonitions - they were memories of humanity's first attempt to wipe out the robots. That earlier attempt ended in the robots fighting back and driving humans off Earth, forcing them to retreat to colonies on Mars. After taking control of the planet, the majority of the robots had their memories wiped and replaced in order to free themselves of their past trauma, and live out normal, happy lives as families.

Meanwhile, up on Mars, the human race spent 50 years preparing for an invasion of Earth, in order to take back their planet, while some robots like Peter's boss, David (Mike Colter), retained their memories and spent 50 years secretly preparing to fight back against the human invasion. Miles (Israel Broussard), the human soldier who is captured by Peter, is shocked to discover that some of the "synths" are children, and that they aren't even aware of what they truly are. He has a change of heart, and shows Peter how to save Alice by sharing his own power source with her. While Peter and Alice are unconscious, they recover all of their memories of the robot uprising, and realize that their daughters are actually two orphaned synth children whose human "parents" were killed during the fight. It isn't made clear why there are child synths, or why they would have been adopted by human parents. Perhaps having cute kid robots around was the new version of having pets.

The movie ends with the family escaping the initial onslaught by getting on an evacuation train with tracks that collapse behind it - presumably heading to a safer haven set up by those robots who retained their memories. The war is far from over, but Peter's interactions with Miles have given him hope, and the movie ends with him saying in voiceover: "We're not that different. Maybe if others can see that, we'll have a future after all."

More: The 25 Best Films on Netflix Right Now

Extinction is available now on Netflix.

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