Matty Beckerman’s Alien Abduction may be the silliest film I’ve seen this year. It’s interesting because I’ve anticipated this “film” since the trailers debuted, but this ended being a case where all the good parts were spoiled in the advertisements. Oddly enough, these “good parts” were actually quite boring in the context of the film. The sad fact is: this could’ve easily been a fun and terrifying experience had it not been for the lackluster story, and the style in which the film was presented. As the credits rolled, I found myself sitting motionless in my chair, eyes glazed over, asking myself, “How can a movie about aliens be that boring?” The answer is the details.
The story is based on the real-life phenomena known as the Brown Mountain Lights, which are a series of “ghost lights” that are seen near Brown Mountain in North Carolina. Strangely, they are a very popular tourist attraction; there are even specific months in the year where they are most visible. These lights have been attributed to swamp gas, street lights, headlights from oncoming traffic, and the more popular… UFOs. Alien Abduction took the latter route. It’s a found-footage film that chronicles the Morris family camping trip, and their imminent abduction; told from the perspective of their autistic 11-year-old son, who is able to inexplicably record every minute of this ill-fated expedition on his camcorder. The story sounds promising. It did not take long to realize just how lazy the film really is.
Right off the bat we are introduced to Riley Morris (our protagonist) who stands as a glaring example of a missed opportunity. We are then introduced to his family… a clan of characters who have the complexity and charisma as a dirt mound. This is where the otherwise boring story could have been more interesting. If the filmmakers knew anything about Autism, they would understand how difficult it is for families to cope (and often accept) the disorder. The method in which they use to adjust to that lifestyle can be quite inspiring, and harbors great opportunities for character development. When a family is thrown into chaos, from either natural or supernatural events, this could serve as a catalyst for revealing whom this family really is; how do they view one another? How do they function as a family? If they bear an autistic child, and we are seeing this tragedy unfold through his or her eyes, it gift-wraps an excuse to reveal these characters’ relationships and motivations. I appreciate the notion of Riley’s fixation with the camera as a coping mechanism; it’s somewhat profound and (kind of) rationalizes his reasons for videotaping. The problem, however, is that Riley’s interaction with the tragedy is so non-existent, you forget he even exists until his parents address him or when he points the camera at a mirror. If he is going to be emotionless and detached (something that I never witnessed in any autistic child), why have him in the movie at all? For that matter, why make it a found footage movie?
Yes, this is another found footage movie. When I quickly realized that in the first few seconds, I sighed and asked, “Really? Another one?” Much like most found footage fares nowadays (recently being Frankenstein’s Army) Alien Abduction did not need to be found footage. In fact, the entire movie is edited and presented like a traditional movie, but includes all the familiar found footage clichés like: talking to the videographer when the camera is facing down, jittery or skipping footage when people are running, “you have to document this,” and so on. Despite all these elements, there are moments where it’s clear that the footage was edited in post-production, and not edited ‘in-camera.’ There are entire sequences where Riley (for whatever reason) is recording convenient b-roll to establish the setting, but every time the camera cuts to a different shot, the audio track continues with no noticeable break in ambient sound or dialogue. Riley’s consumer-level camcorder is even able to pick up crystal-clear audio when his mom and older brother are whispering to one another from across the room. And somehow, amidst the numerous alien encounters, Riley is able to maintain fluid, dynamic, and flawless camera movement all while running through the woods, and jumping over rocks. Even as his dad is being abducted (or possessed?), Riley is tightly focused on his dad’s reaction, and begins circling him for no reason. Why is he doing that? It’s almost as if Riley is a professional camera operator. Perhaps the biggest error occurs at the beginning of the tunnel sequence where we actually see the camera operator’s shadow, and the Arri Alexa he’s holding. While these complains seem mundane, they ultimately destroy the reality the story is based in, and work against film’s style. Again, I must ask, if you are going to disregard the conventions of a found footage movie in favor of a traditional movie, why make it found footage at all? It ceases to be thrilling and becomes a parody of the style.
But how does the story work? As I alluded to earlier, it’s terribly boring, laughable, and lazy. Alien Abduction, for the most part, is a sleeping pill that occasionally startles you awake to ask, “what just happened?” When the Morris family kids first see the alien spacecraft, they record it. The next day, their dad does not believe what they saw, and he continues to disbelieve them until his abduction. Why couldn’t the kids show him the footage they took? Did the filmmakers forget they were making a found footage movie? On that same day, the dad, for no reason at all, becomes violently irate towards his family. He even hits Riley. Why? When the family comes across a tunnel littered with abandoned cars and debris, the dad takes his sons to venture inside. Then the aliens appear, emphasized by a non-diagetic industrial sound effect that would not be heard in reality. When the dad is abducted, the rest of the family takes shelter at the residence of a rustic recluse who admirably defends them. (He is my favorite character because he has an arch, or what could loosely be described as an arch). The family briefly laments so as to make way for expository dialogue concerning government conspiracies and a recap of what just happened. The recluse leaves the family to help his brother, having overheard his abduction via wireless radio. Soon, the aliens attack, the family hides in the cellar, the older brother is abducted, and when the smoke settles, the remaining family members trek to their next action set piece. More aliens attack, rinse and repeat; mom and the recluse are abducted leaving Riley and his sister alone. The next morning, they run across a state trooper, all is well, never mind, the aliens abduct them too. We never fully see the action since Riley is not directly involved (yet he still manages to pull rack focuses and canted camera angles). Loosing his older brother and his mother should’ve been devastating, but we never hear or see his reaction. The only reason why he even breaks down is due to being lost in the woods. Between these short instances of action, there are 10 to 15 minute long sequences where the characters talk about nothing. It’s incredibly boring, and serves as a lazy way of padding out the story to feature length.
While Alien Abduction is not as inept as Devil Inside in terms of laziness, scare tactics, and the clear misunderstanding of the style, but it stands in the Parthenon of colossal missed opportunities. I love the concept. I love some of the ideas they were attempting to represent, and I thoroughly enjoyed the aspect of never truly seeing the aliens (at least until the very end). Perhaps the film was changed from traditional to found footage at the last minute now that the style is so easily marketable. Regardless of what the production was like, what we are ultimately given is a bland experience whose fate is destined to be another brick in the cinematic wall.