The Horror Honeys: Close Encounters of the Austistic Kind

Close Encounters of the Austistic Kind

A Sci-Fi Honey Review
Alien Abduction (2014)

I was an innocent, wide-eyed eight-year-old when I first saw Fire in the Sky, and the pure extraterrestrial magic that is The X-Files followed in September of that same year.  I remember the exhilarating terror of getting into bed at night and staring out my window, picturing the way the bright white light would fill my room when the Greys landed in my yard, seeking to whisk me away.  That strange and abstract fear of alien abduction has crept into the back of anyone’s mind who has let extraterrestrial stories from page and screen infiltrate their nightmares – as well as anyone who has given a second thought to how eerily that star seemed to move that they caught a glimpse of the other night…

Yeaaaahhh, stars don't do that.

Needless to say, I was excited to experience that same white-knuckle sensation while delving into Matty Beckerman’s directorial debut, Alien Abduction (now on VOD).  This entry in the found footage movement follows the Morris family on a camping trip in the rural Brown Mountain area of North Carolina (a real place, which I’m sure no one will want to camp at now).  A malfunctioning GPS takes them down increasingly treacherous roads, and unnerving events ensue, including a sudden downpour of dead crows, a tunnel filled with abandoned vehicles, and strange lights in the night sky.  Dad Peter Morris jokes that the area reminds him of Deliverance, which wife Katie adds, “without all the anal rape.”  Hilarious, considering the visitors that soon descend upon them have a well-known proclivity for backdoor probing.

I bet you squeal like a pig! WHEEEEE!
If you’re a fan of the found footage genre, good for you – you have more patience than I do.  All the tedium associated with the device is in full-force, especially in the sagging middle portion of the film.  Mom and dad bicker with each other and teenaged son and daughter Corey and Jillian as they wind deeper into the woods, while 11-year-old kid brother Riley captures the events on his video camera.  The actors in this low-budget endeavor are not experts at the naturalistic improvisation that found footage requires, especially when we meet the character of Sean, a redneck recluse residing in the Brown Mountains.  Jump scares and some occasionally decent effects break up the monotony of these exchanges, though they lack the intensity or consistency needed to sustain the horror factor of the story.  The first glimpse of the Greys is actually scarier and more effective than some big-budget alien invasion stories (I’m looking at you, Shyamalan), and there is something supremely eerie about mysterious disappearances in general (the people-less graveyard of abandoned vehicles on the road is a spooky visual for sure).  The way the footage is actually found, too, is a cool effect and something I hadn’t seen before – although the film nearly blows it by repeating this plot point again at the end of the film.  Unfortunately, everything the film does right is dragged down by the wearying weight of the found footage style, a storytelling device that is often both a gift and a curse.

Our boy filmmaker's real last name is Polanski. No joke.
Alien Abduction is in many ways run-of-the-mill, but some controversy is sure to be generated by the filmmaker’s decision to place the documentation of the film’s events squarely in the hands of Riley, who is autistic.  For the life of me, I cannot decide if this is an inspired or exploitative choice.  On the one hand, it helps to justify for the story why Riley never drops the camera, screams and runs in terror like you imagine a “normal” 11-year-old would do in this situation.  Because documenting his daily experiences through the lens of a camera is a coping mechanism for some of the challenges associated with Riley’s autism, he clings onto it for dear life and obsessively captures every moment.  It also presents the film with the opportunity to document the situation with a bit more artistry than usually seen in found footage films; Riley will often choose to focus his camera on a single object or creature, getting lost in a detail while chaos swirls around him, a “restrictive behavior” trait associated with autism.

If the issue of Riley’s autism had merely been an aside in the film, I think the audience is educated enough to understand how that component of his character serves to tell the story.  I lean toward this being an exploitative choice, however, because the result is that autism becomes Riley’s ONLY defining characteristic.  We are told of his autism once at the beginning of the film on a prologue, and then again repeatedly throughout the film by his family.  He is only a tool to tell the story, a conduit by which our footage is “found,” and his disorder is the reason.  This leaves an altogether unpleasant taste in my mouth, and what the film does well, it doesn’t do enough  to make up for it.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating:  Two and a half slimy Grey fingers out of five.