MRR Review: "Alien Abduction"

Photo Credit: IFC Midnight

Rating: NR
Length: 85 mintues
Release Date: May 1, 2014
Directed by: Matty Beckerman
Genre: Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller

The horror sub-genre known as "found footage" first blasted onto the scene in 1999 with "The Blair Witch Project." The genre already existed, but the release of "The Blair Witch Project" as a critical and commercial smash hit with a minuscule budget made filmmakers and major studios take notice. For major studios, it was a way to make huge profits with almost no investment. For independent filmmakers, found footage was a way to break into the mainstream with nothing but a digital video camera.

While subsequent found footage successes like "Paranormal Activity" and "Cloverfield" were indeed major studio productions, "Alien Abduction" falls squarely into the independent, low-budget camp. "Alien Abduction" is inspired by the real-life phenomenon of the Brown Mountain lights in North Carolina. Through found footage that brings the full story to terrifying light, the movie asks what would happen if those mysterious lights were really alien in origin. This low-budget screamer employs no small amount of creativity to construct a story that manages to involve and frighten without needing to resort to the flashy and often gory tactics of other horror pictures.

For more than a century, various North Carolina residents have been reporting strangely colored and scientifically unexplainable lights in the night sky close to Brown Mountain. While there have been some explanations offered for the lights, in local lore, the legend of the Brown Mountain lights continues to loom large. This is the stuff that horror and sci-fi stories are made from, and it is surprising the phenomenon has not been artistically explored prior to "Alien Abduction."

Director Matty Beckerman and writer Robert Lewis wisely choose the route of found footage to tell a bulk of their story. Not only is found footage inexpensive and often effective, but in the current Internet and mobile-device-dominated cultural climate, the shaky and low-resolution images resonate more with many modern moviegoers than slick cinematography on 35 millimeter film. The clever conceit of the movie is footage that was quite literally found on a video camera that fell from a hovering alien spaceship. The footage contained therein tells the story of a family abducted by the aliens that are actually behind the Brown Mountain lights.

As the tale in the footage unfolds, the Morris family very unwisely decides to investigate the lights, and later a group of abandoned cars in the middle of the woods. Needless to say, this does not lead to anything good, as the clan goes through a series of very effectual and jarring scares as the ordeal intensifies.

Like many found footage horror and sci-fi movies, "Alien Abduction" has to come up with a reason for the cameras to keep rolling through the terror. Past found footage features have resorted time and time again to the flimsy excuse of a character needing to keep filming everything for the sake of coping with the movie's events; however, in "Alien Abduction" autistic child Riley, played by Riley Polanski, has a need to make sure everything is captured by the video camera. It is still a contrivance, but it is more natural, understandable and original than most such contrivances.

While there have been plenty of monsters on display throughout horror movie history, when it is time to reveal the true horrors, "Alien Abduction" takes its sci-fi turn. Fans of the genre will be heartened to see ETs that are fairly close to the classic gray aliens in the mold of so many alien-centric movies and comic books of decades past. However, these creatures are not the cuddly Spielberg variety of alien, but rather the source of abject horror for both the characters and the audience. The often low quality of the video footage is also a clever way to cover up the limitations of the film's tiny budget.

It is true that the movie's family of victims can be frustrating with their less than intelligent decisions throughout the story; however, this trope is nothing new for fans of horror films. In fact, the film's inherent cheesiness can be undone when the viewer sees it as a sort of intentional humor. Audiences can look at it as a nod of the hat to classic horror films.

On the surface, everything about "Alien Abduction" has been done: found footage, alien abductions, use of real life mythology etc. However, the novel mix of shaky camera horror with classic sci-fi ideas makes for a short, yet sweet treat for horror and sci-fi fans alike, which is not as easy as it looks on film.