As promised, I’m back with a new post today… however, once we discuss the movie I watched, you may end up wishing I took another day off. It’s not that Alien Abduction (I’ll have words to say about that title shortly) was the worst movie I’ve ever seen, or even a bad movie at that… in the end, there’s very little to dislike about it… except for its one fatal flaw: it’s tediously boring… oh, and the crazy flaw in logic it starts off with…
Alien Abduction is a found-footage horror movie that follows a family of five on their camping trip in the Brown Mountains of North Carolina as they are systematically… wait for it… abducted by aliens. So, as I mentioned in my introduction, this movie is not all that bad… the acting is fairly solid, the effects are effective, and there are plenty of scares (though, most are of the jump-scare variety). The filmmaker (Matty Beckerman in his directorial debut) avoids many of the typical stumbling blocks of the found-footage horror film. For example, his explanation for why the person behind the camera never stops filming, is nuanced… though, perhaps a bit exploitive. Specifically, the camera person is an autistic 11-year-old boy who uses the camera as a coping mechanism. To be honest, I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about this. At times it felt like a bit of a crutch… autism seems to be the current go to explanation for nearly every odd behavior or action of a character in fiction (I’m not saying this to downplay the seriousness of autism … instead, I feel like the lazy and misunderstood way pop culture uses this disorder leads to a great deal of misunderstanding about autism). At the same time, this explanation at least feels somewhat more realistic than the usual (i.e. “I have to record everything, no matter what… it’s my duty”). So, in the end, I ended up giving it a pass and actually buying into it at times. In addition, there is no use of night-vision in the movie… which, I felt actually contributed to the spookiness of the film. Not being able to see more than a few feet in front of the camera during the night scene kept me uneasy, wondering what was going to jump out at the camera next. This led to perhaps the most (maybe only) tense moments in the film. Beckerman also deserves some praise for connecting the film to actual UFO and alien abduction lore. In my early teenage years, I was obsessed with alien abduction and UFO stuff (I have a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg debate about my love of The X-Files and my interests in extraterrestrials). So, when I heard the film reference the Brown Mountain Lights and Project Blue Book within the first five minutes, I was on board (though, that didn’t last long). It reminded me a bit of Devil’s Pass, in that a certain amount of credibility was earned by placing a starting foot in “reality”. Okay, I need to take a quick aside here. I know I’m talking about the positives of this film, but this critique really doesn’t fit anywhere else. It just seems weird to make a movie about alien abductions… it feels like that phenomenon has been out of the collective unconscious for at least a decade (I’m struggling to avoid using the term zeitgeist as to not sound like a millennial (though, it probably is appropriate here…also, there’s nothing wrong with millennials… I’m just not one)). There was a time when I’m sure this movie would have tapped into some general societal fears, but with the debunking of most UFO lore, the cheap and available nature of home editing software that calls every frame of home-UFO footage into question, and the increased understanding of sleep paralysis which explains most experiences that were connected to alien abduction, the underlying conceit of this movie falls flat.
Unfortunately, the credibility earned by anchoring the film in “reality” was strained (if not outright broken) nearly immediately. Okay, I’m usually not a nitpicker… I can suspend disbelief with the best (that might be why I’m able to enjoy horror movies more than most). However, the opening scene of this movie made me audible exclaim “come on” (and if I can read our dog’s facial expression correctly she agreed with me… it seemed like a pretty clear I-know-tell-me-about-it look if I’ve ever seen one). Apparently, a common, average, run-of-the-mill digital camera can survive a fall from low Earth orbit… I wish I could say that ‘m trying to be clever, or exaggerating this… I’m not… the footage we are watching comes from a camera that falls to Earth from a spaceship. Part of me just wants to stop my discussion of the film right there… that seems like an appropriate place to end… but, there’s more I want (need) to say about this movie. If you’re able to forgive this leap (fall?) in logic, you are then exposed to a run-of-the mill found-footage horror film: a lot of inter-character strife, shaky-cam running, lazy jump-scares, and camera problems right before you’re about to see the creatures (in this case aliens). The filmmaker checks every box in the sub-genre in an almost academic, and therefore frightfully boring, manner. One last thing, the camera problems I mentioned above causes a bit of a Catch-22. The camera jumping and blurring that occurs whenever the aliens are near becomes increasingly frustrating… there is a great deal of teasing and almost no pay off. At the same time, though, it could also be argued that this is a strength of the movie. We all know what aliens looks like… or what they would look like if they were real (I mean, aliens are real, in that there has to be extraterrestrial life somewhere in the universe (probably all over the universe), I just don’t buy that little-grey-men are coming into our bedrooms at night and conducting tests… the government, maybe… aliens, that’s just crazy… ). So, there is no need for the viewer to see them. Let’s be honest, what the filmmaker would have ended up showing us with his (obviously) limited budget would have been a disappointment. If you don’t believe me, watch the last fifteen minutes of Signs and we’ll have a discussion. So, I’m a bit divided on how I feel about the visual treatment of the aliens… what I will say though, is that this worked in Jaws… but Alien Abduction is no Jaws.
Okay, I have to end with a brief discussion of the title… Alien Abduction. I don’t have anything witty or insightful to say here… I just need to point out how lazy and on-the-nose this title is. I’m trying to figure out why this title bothers me so much… I mean, Alien is basically the same thing (so is Halloween, Poltergeist, and The Exorcist)… I guess that right there may be the issue. If you’re going to go with an on-the-nose title you better be able to back it up with one hell of a movie… it’s like calling your shot in baseball… if you do it and then hit a homer, you’re a legend… if you strike out you’re a chump. So, I guess I’m calling Alien Abduction a chump… that may be the harshest end to a post yet… let’s see if I can top it before the end of the summer!