A vacationing family encounters an alien threat in this thriller based on the real-life Brown Mountain Lights phenomenon in North Carolina.
I was in a particularly good mood before I sat down to watch Alien Abduction, another entry in the found footage canon of films that I abhor so mightily. And why was I in a good mood you ask? Because I had watched a film called Afflicted a few days earlier and it gave me hope that I might’ve been a bit hasty in dismissing all found footage films as 90 minute hackfests. And in all honesty, it had me on the hook for a short while but, as I expected, it ended up as just another failed attempt to milk something from a genre of film that should’ve been sent out to pasture years ago.
In an attempt to give it some dramatic heft, the producers claim that this flick is based on a true story but upon doing some research on the subject matter, it’s based more on an urban legend than anything else. That legend being the appearance of strange lights that supposedly plague the Brown Mountain region of North Carolina. The film begins and ends with some interviews with eyewitnesses who’ve witnessed the phenomenon first hand and “Experts” who offer their opinions on what the mysterious lights might actually be. In an attempt to echo similar scenes from The Blair Witch Project (1995), these scenes are filmed in black & white but all that did was remind me that they were done more effectively back then.
In Alien Abduction, the Morris family is on a camping trip in the area where the lights have been sighted and soon after they arrive the trouble begins. In a very interesting conceit, the reason given for someone always having a camera running during the usual shenanigans found in films like this is that 11 year old Riley Morris (Riley Polanski) is autistic and recording everything is his way of staying connected with the world, essentially it’s the only way he can functionally interact with everyone. Mind you, I still think it’s a silly notion because Riley seems to understand that these aliens have nothing but bad intentions for him & his family and he runs when threatened so he obviously understands that he’s gotta get away but the film wants us to believe that if he loses his camera while running for his life he’ll fall prey to his autism & shut down? His behavior in the film felt pretty normal to me so I just didn’t buy that explanation but it is different – I’ll give them that.
None of the members of the Morris family really stand out by way of characterization, they’re of the cookie cutter variety and feature no outstanding traits that might’ve made them stand out in a crowd but the performances are indeed earnest and realistic enough for an audience to find something to grab onto. This comes in handy since it’s about 30 minutes or so before any aliens show up to start abducting people. One of my biggest problems with the film is the extremely annoying and truly dizzying camerawork displayed. Since the film is almost entirely shot from young Riley’s perspective it’s constantly bouncing up/down, left/right in some of the most manic shaky cam work I’ve ever witnessed. Additionally, since the camera really goes wonky when the family is besieged by aliens, some sort of electromagnetic interference from their proximity comes into play and the camera either fades to black or shuts down completely. This usually happens when something good is about to happen so the producers have an explanation for why the audience never really sees any aliens (Save for two quick “Blink and you’ll miss them” moments). It’s a cheap ploy used to explain away what’s obviously a very low budget.
And since we barely see any aliens the subject matter of the film becomes arbitrary. Once the Morris family lock themselves in a cabin the nature of their assailants could be anything: Lions, Tigers, Bears, the Horror News Radio crew…it could be anything outside of those walls trying to get in. The only clue that we get to tell us that they might be extraterrestrial in nature are the creepy lights that seep in through the cracks of the cabin walls whenever the aliens are outside. But since we never really get a good look at any aliens, it could be literally anything outside of the cabin and that diminishes the overall scare factor of the film greatly (The Horror News Radio crew isn’t very frightening – unless of course you’ve seen Vixen before she drinks her coffee in the morning. Talk about SCARY…)
What Alien Abduction wants to be is a departure from the usual topics that plague all Found Footage films and for a while (A very short while) it succeeds. Aside from this year’s “Unidentified“, the “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” segment of “V/H/S 2” (2013) and 1993’s superior (But not found footage) “Fire In The Sky“, I haven’t seen too many flicks with alien abduction as their subject. But some supremely annoying camerawork and a story that defeats itself by falling prey to the usual tropes found in found footage flicks kills whatever ambitions the filmmakers had going into production. I can’t help but feel that there’s an opportunity that’s been missed here and that’s too bad – Alien Abduction could’ve been a contender.
Alien Abduction – 1 out of 5 shrouds.