I’m noticing something of a trend in some of the “found footage” horrors I’ve been watching lately — a rather hum-drum and predictable (if not dull as dry toast) opening two acts, appended by a surprising, perhaps even amazing, third act that almost makes putting up with all the earlier crap worth it. Such was certainly the case with Adam Wingard’s 2016-released Blair Witch, and the pattern largely holds for the next film in the subgenre that I watched (courtesy of Amazon Prime streaming, although I understand it’s also available on standard DVD), 2012’s micro-budget effort from co-directors Ben Martinez and David Benjamin Franco, Alien Valley.
As far as set-ups go, they don’t come much more bog-standard than this : the crew from the supposedly-popular “reality” TV show “Paranormal Mysteries” (hence this film’s alternate — and thoroughly uninspired — title, P.M.) have “gone missing” after heading out to the San Luis Valley of Colorado to “discover the facts” behind a series of cattle mutilations that have plagued the area for years. There’s a bit of truth to this, apparently — the valley did, in fact, see a wave of still-unexplained cattle mutilations back in the 1960s — but the “compilation of leaked footage, documentary analysis, and material provided by the ALC network” that follows is, of course, all bullshit.
In this flick’s early-to-middle going, it’s also pretty dull bullshit — the pacing of screenwriter Kristopher Simms’ script is such a slow burn that it barely “burns” at all, largely focused as it is on the one-dimensional interactions between crew members Andrea (played by Madison Guthrie), Matt (Jared Van Doorn), Rob (John Campbell), Eric (Nathan Blackburn), and Claire (Meghan McMahon) as they go about the business of location filming and interviewing various principals and self-styled “experts” with something to say about the case, but there are at least a couple of above-average performances to be had from Nate Bakke as head cinematographer Dave and Nikki Cornejo as ostensible government liaison Rose, both of whom seem noticeably more comfortable in front of the camera than their cohorts and have a nice and easy chemistry between them that’s reasonably enjoyable to watch. Other than that, though, the first roughly 60 minutes of this 75-minute production don’t have a whole heck of a lot going for them.
Tell ya what, though, when Martinez and Franco decide to pull out all the stops for the final 15, they really go all-out. Some very effective practical effects work complements a fiercely tense and constantly surprising sprint to the finish, and when the film finally figures that it needs to live up to its name (well, one of its names) by dropping an “actual” alien into the proceedings, it not only works, it works unbelievably well. You know how things are gonna turn out, of course — that’s telegraphed from the outset — but how they end up turning out that way is definitely something to see.
Our guys Ben n’ David certainly know how to play up the sense of unease and terror that the “shaky-cam” game can still deliver when done correctly, and if they get their hands on some material that demands real creativity and gusto from start to finish, who knows? They might actually be able to come up with something that forces the studios to take notice. As it is, though, Alien Valley doesn’t really showcase all they’re capable of until the very late going — and by then, a lot of folks will have understandably hit “stop” and gone on to do something else.
I would advise you do anything but, though, if you opt to invest your time in this one. If you’re willing to be patient — okay, very patient — Alien Valley will most definitely reward your perseverance and leave you walking away from it impressed. If your attention span falls into the short-to-medium range, though, then there’s not much chance you’ll be willing to wait around for the rather immense payoff that’s in store. I won’t hold it against you if you check out early, but I will feel sorry for you — this is a flick that tests your determination, absolutely, but also one that is equally determined to reward its most loyal and/or stubborn (is there a difference?) viewers very generously indeed.