Alien Abduction, alien abductions, aliens, Ben Sharples, Brown Mountain Lights, Brown Mountain North Carolina, chase films, children in peril, cinema, Corey Eid, families, family vacations, feature-film debut, film reviews, films, found-footage, found-footage films, government secrets, horror, horror films, isolation, Jeff Bowser, Jillian Clare, Jordan Turchin, Katherine Sigismund, Kelley Hinman, low-budget films, Matty Beckerman, Movies, Peter Holden, Project Bluebook, Riley Polanski, Robert Lewis, sci-fi-horror, UFOs
Why is it generally not a good idea to open a film with the resolution? I’m not talking about the rather de rigueur habit of giving us a glimpse of the climax before working backwards – that particular tactic has been done successfully multiple times, most recently by Big Ass Spider (2013). No, I mean beginning a film with the entire resolution before jumping backwards, playing everything through linearly and then concluding with the very same resolution that began the film. Just speaking for myself, mind you, I can think of one very important reason why this is a bad idea: the last thing you want to end a film with is a hum-drum, “seen it before” conclusion, especially if the audience has already been shown said climax earlier. I’m not saying that everything needs (or even should) end with a twist or a surprise but leading with your climax is like beginning a joke with the punchline and still expecting your audience to laugh at the end.
As should be fairly obvious by now, Matty Beckerman’s found-footage alien film, Alien Abduction (2014), does exactly what I just complained about above. More’s the pity, since the conclusion in question is pretty damn awesome: visually eye-catching, well-staged, creepy as hell and suitably shocking, it would have been a great way to end a film. Hell, it still IS a great way to end a film, even though we see the exact same scene, verbatim, at the very beginning of the film. I can understand being proud of a perfectly executed scene, don’t get me wrong, but the sense of deja vu I felt going into the film’s final five minutes kind of defeated the purpose. Again, more’s the pity, since Alien Abduction is actually a pretty decent, albeit less than essential, found-footage film and ends up being a fairly thrilling ride for most of its 85 minute runtime.
Beginning with a note that “this is actually leaked footage from classified Air Force files,” we get some standard-issue “talking head” interview stuff about aliens, particularly as related to the Brown Mountain area of North Carolina. Apparently, a phenomena known as the “Brown Mountain Lights” has been documented in that part of the country for some time now, a phenomena which has also been tied in to several unexplained disappearances. We’re told about a secret government project know as Project Bluebook (about time someone helped car buyers!) that monitors and studies alien and UFO activity. One of the cases has to do with the disappearance of 11-year-old Riley Morris (Riley Polanski), whose camcorder was recovered even though his body, along with those of his family, was never found. Alien Abduction, then, supposedly consists of Riley’s found-footage. As should be pretty clear by now, The Blair Witch Project (1999) is a pretty big influence here, right down to some of those patented “cry into the camera” shots.
We now meet the Morris family as they set out for a fun weekend of camping in the Brown Mountains (dun dun duuuuun!): parents Katie (Katherine Sigismund) and Peter (Peter Holden) and their kids, autistic Riley and his siblings, Jillian (Jillian Clare) and Corey (Corey Eid). Since this is a found-footage film, we get plenty of footage of the family goofing around in their truck on the drive over there (the filming aspect is explained by Riley’s constant need to film everything). As with most films (and scenes) like this, we don’t really get a whole lot of anything here but, ya know, it’s part of the trope, so why not?
That night, after settling down at their first campsite, the kids happen to see strange, “intelligent” lights in the sky, lights which form some sort of pattern before zooming away. Their parents, as can be expected, are slightly less than convinced, however. On their way to the next campsite in the morning (apparently, the family has a thing about spending the night in every campsite they come to), they begin to deal with some pretty standard horror movie issues: none of their phones get a signal, the truck’s GPS is on the fritz and a mysterious rain/fog has popped up out of nowhere to make everything nice and ominous. Did I mention that they’re also dangerously low on gas? Because they totally are, dontcha know.
As they continue to drive, the family begin to pass a series of stopped vehicles: the various vehicles appear to have just stopped in random places, with the doors open, lights on and all personal belongings still inside. They make their way to a creepy tunnel, which appears to be jam-packed with more stalled vehicles, including a police cruiser. Proceeding through the tunnel, the group is suddenly confronted with a blinding light and, for lack of a better word, a pretty stereotypical alien (close your eyes and you already know what it looks like, trust me). From this point on (with an hour to go), the film becomes a relentless chase picture, with the family running in desperation from the alien. Along the way, they meet a redneck hunter with a thing for guns (Jess Bowser) and get involved in situations that seem an awful lot like video game segments, especially when everything is filmed in a first-person “put you right in the action” kind of way. This leads directly to the already-seen conclusion with nary a detour to the left or right along the way. Roll credits.
Despite being rather underwhelmed by Alien Abduction, it’s actually not a bad little film at all. There’s plenty of eerie atmosphere to be found on the way to the tunnel sequence and that first/final scene is a real home-run. I also have to give extreme kudos to the filmmakers for actually managing to film an hour-long chase scene: while it’s not perfectly executed (again, just a little to “video-game-rail-shooter” for my tastes), it’s still a nicely ambitious tack to take, especially when something less ambitious would have gotten the job done.
On the other hand, however, there’s also plenty of stuff here that drags the film down like an albatross. The acting, as can be expected with many found-footage films, is functional, at best, and silly, at worst. Chief offender here would definitely have to be Peter Holden as the father: after finding him to be one of the worst parts of the recent Under the Bed (2013), I was rather chagrined to see his name in the credits for this one. As expected, he’s rather awful, although he does get some competition from Jeff Bowser as the redneck and Corey Eid as the oldest son. Katherine Sigimund and Jillian Clare end up coming out the best, acting-wise, but that’s mostly because they don’t stick out as much as the others.
The film is also tonally inconsistent, swinging wildly from subtle chills to klaxon-blasting jump scares, sometimes within the same scene. Rather than keeping me off-balance, I found the back-and-forth to be extremely irritating: had the film decided to be either a balls-to-the-wall rollercoaster or a creepy slow-burner, it would have been a much better movie. There are also a few moments where the film’s low-budget shows through, although the film’s key moment (again, that stellar opening/conclusion) actually looks pretty great. The alien costume/makeup is pretty good, too, from what we can see of it, although I wish they’d been a little more original with the look; by contrast, the aliens in the “painting” segment of All Hallows’ Eve (2014) looked a whole lot more original and scary than what we get here.
As a low-budget first feature, Alien Abduction definitely shows that director Beckerman has some potential: I’m really curious to see what he does with something a little more ambitious (and original) next time. If you’re the kind of person who relishes the opportunity to watch any found-footage film, you could probably do a lot worse than Alien Abduction: it’s not the most flawless example of this type of thing but it’s far from the worst. On the other hand, this exact same idea has already been done recently (and better) in the aforementioned All Hallows’ Eve and Jason Eisener’s excellent “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” segment of V/H/S 2 (2013). With so many choices already out there, Alien Abduction just doesn’t do quite enough to stick out from the crowd. Close, as they say, but definitely no cigar.