Having walked away from 2012’s Canadian indie production The Conspiracy feeling reasonably optimistic — frankly, for the first time in ages — about the “found footage” or “mockumentary” horror genre, I thought I’d put my new-found positive inclinations to the test right off the bat, so this afternoon, in between (largely failed) attempts to negotiate an uneasy truce between the cat we’ve had for years and the new one we just picked up at the pound yesterday, I rifled through the Netflix instant streaming queue and found a new number — from just this year, in fact — called Alien Abduction and figured, what the heck? Let’s see if there’s something out there in the zeitgeist that’s breathing new life into a corner of the cinematic world that most of us had long since given up for dead.
Yeah, sure, the film’s title is none to awe-inspiring, but hey, sometimes there’s something to be said for knowing what you’re getting into, right? And I noticed that the flick had been picked up for distribution, post-production, by IFC Midnight, so there’s gotta be something at least somewhat original and/or at the very least well-enough-done in here to garner it some notice (it’s also available on DVD and Blu-Ray, but as I didn’t see it in either of those formats this review won’t focus on any sort of technical specs in regards to its physical-storage iterations). I mean, it just stands to reason, right?
Based, at least in part, on a purportedly “true” case involving a family that went out camping in the wilds of North Carolina and had an up-close-and-personal encounter with the so-called “Brown Mountain Lights” — a fairly well-known phenomenon among UFOlogists, as it turns out — director Matty Beckerman’s flick purports to offer up the “top secret” video footage captured by autistic teenager Riley Morris (played by Riley Polanski) of just what happened to him and the rest of his apparently quite blase clan of Middle -American blood relations (consisting of mother Katie played by Katherine Sigismund, father Peter played by Peter Holden, brother Corey played by Corey Eid, and sister Jillian played by Jillian Clare — my god, are these the real people??????????????????????) when their trek into the forest went horribly wrong.
Right off the bat, I have to admit that I’m all for whatever bad shit ends up getting heaped on the parents here — the only thing dumber than taking an autistic kid out to the middle of fucking nowhere is taking him out to a well-known UFO hot spot out in the middle of nowhere, after all — but I gotta admit that once (or should I say if) you can get past that, Beckerman has actually constructed a reasonably involving little piece of “hand-held horror” here. Screenwriter Robert Lewis’ script is lean and mean, the actors all acquit themselves reasonably well despite having very little to hang their characterizations on, and there’s a definite sense of thick-enough-to-cut-with-a-knife tension and foreboding throughout. It’s hardly revolutionary stuff by any stretch of the imagination, but enough is happening here to keep you fairly well glued to events on-screen — even if you’ve got a couple of cats snarling and growling at each other more or less the whole time.
I think the hard-core UFO community will probably find a little more to like here than the average Joe, sure — hey, if I was totally convinced that shit like this was really happening I’d probably calling up all my friends and telling them to watch this thing ASAP — but even for those of us with only a mild interest in the subject, Alien Abduction proves to be plenty interesting. Yeah, the concrete horrors are never spelled out explicitly, but that’s part of the “charm” of these faux-“real” features, isn’t it? Scary movies are usually scariest when we don’t know exactly what’s going on and have to fill in the more gruesome details in your mind, and the “found footage” conceit weaves that incompleteness-for-its-own-sake right into its celluloid DNA. It also helps that it’s a lot easier to cover up things like dodgy production values with saturated shadows and the like because, hey, this is all amateur footage, right? And while lazy and/or uninspired low-budget filmmakers often use that as a crutch, in the hands of people who actually care about what they’re doing — as Beckerman and his cohorts seem to — it can still work, even all these years after The Blair Witch Project (which was, lest we forget, a good number of years down the road from arguably the true progenitor of the genre, Ruggero Deodato’s seminal Cannibal Holocaust). All of which is to say that while Alien Abduction may not offer anything that hasn’t been seen before, at least it proves the well ain’t dry yet.
Guarded praise? Sure, I’ll give you that — but it’s still more praise than a lot of other efforts with a lot more money to spend deserve, or frankly even try to garner. Beckerman’s film may not be worthy of soaring accolades, but it earns what it can get by at least respecting its audience enough to still give a shit about wanting to creep you out. That’s good enough for me to give it a recommendation along the lines of “why not give it a go?” — and if you do, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.