The Morris family – mother Katie (Katherine Sigismund), father Peter (Peter Holden), daughter Jillian (Jillian Clare), son Corey (Corey Eid) and autistic video camera wielding youngest son Riley (Riley Polanski) are going on a camping trips in the Brown Mountains of North Carolina. The good old Brown Mountain Lights will be the least of their problems, for the aliens responsible for said phenomenon are going on a real abduction spree in the area.
Peter is gone to wherever the aliens take their victims pretty soon, while the rest of the family manage to flee into the cabin of weird but actually rather heroic mountain man Sean (Jeff Bowser). This, of course isn’t the end of their ordeal, because even the best cabin isn’t alien proof.
So, it seems as if the last batch of POV (or if you prefer, “found footage”) horror movies I’ve seen has been – all bitching and moaning by the kind of film critic who’ll never avoid an opportunity to look down on all films in this particular sub-genre notwithstanding – a rather great bunch, quite a few managing to get out from under the shadow of the (still brilliant) Blair Witch Project as well as avoiding the (still pretty crap) shadow of Paranormal Activity altogether. It’s as if POV horror weren’t something you should just dismiss out of hand but, like every style and sub-genre around, full of crap and greatness and much of the in-between, too.
Matty Beckerman’s Alien Abduction might even be my favourite of the bunch. At the very least, the film makes clever use of a real (or “real”, depending on one’s preference) Fortean phenomenon as a jumping off point for its story, escalating from there in ways that aren’t exactly surprising variations on UFO lore but which are so well executed, asking for originality seems to be beside the point.
Beckerman puts real care into establishing his characters as your typical middle-class family, avoids – much to my delight – turning anyone involved into “the annoying one”, and still manages to have the hoped for weird stuff happening early on and, once things really get going about twenty minutes in, never stops for too long while still leaving space for basic yet basically believable characterisation. There’s something archetypal and elegant about the escalation of events here, the increasing desperation and trauma of the (surviving characters) whose options dwindle the more the threat they face increases, never managing to understand why they are threatened the way they are at all. One could argue this sort of thing is basic horror movie stuff, but then doing the basic stuff very well often is exactly what makes a good horror film.
Alien Abduction also is full of excellently set up fright scenes, not only turning the aliens into a real threat but also showing an eye for the more quiet frights: the shots of the empty cars in and around the mountain tunnel, or the road full of dead crows are memorable and impressive by what they suggest, and make the aliens a credible threat even before we see them in action for the first time.
I also appreciate some of the film’s slight variations of standard horror character tropes: how Sean, after starting out like your typical crazy movie hillbilly, turns out to be the kind of guy who will risk his life repeatedly for a bunch of complete strangers, and how the theoretically weakest members of the Morris family, doomed as they may be, demonstrate hidden strengths that turn them into something more interesting than just your typical disposable horror film meat.
If all that isn’t enough to make a film worth more than sighing “just another found footage horror film, oh no!” I don’t know what is.