Saturday, August 22, 2015

U.F.O. Abduction (1989)

aka The McPherson Tape

On an evening in 1983, the Van Heese family come together in their family home in the boons to celebrate the eighth (or is it fifth?) birthday of their youngest member, Michelle. There’s the usual degree of familial tension, with the family father having died some time ago, Ma now looking into the bottle a bit too often, and one of the sons hilariously trying to assume the mantle of head of the family in a way that’d get me kicked in the ass by my Mum, who is of a more democratic bend, but it’s nothing anyone would make a melodrama of.

That changes when the sons of the family follow a strange light in the sky and observe what looks a lot like a landed UFO. Unfortunately, the three little grey man this very special ride belongs to discover the guys right back and clearly aren’t too fond of witnesses to their activities. The boys manage to get back home, but that’s of course not the last they’ll hear from the aliens this night.

As we all know, the POV/found footage sub-genre did already exist before the Blair Witch made her entry in the movie canon, so it will not come as a total surprise that Dean Alioto’s semi-professionally made U.F.O. Abduction purports to be the family video one of the Van Heese sons shot during that long night in 1983, nor that the characters disappeared without a trace beyond the footage. Why, even in 1989, the “shut off that goddamn camera!” trope is already in place. Clearly, Alioto’s film was quite ahead of its time.

So much ahead of its time, in fact, that Alioto remade the film in 1998 as Alien Abduction with a professional cast and a bit more money for effects. I have to say I prefer the earlier (and rather difficult to find) version here, I think not in spite of but because of, a certain technical roughness (as befits a supposed family video from 1983) and the absolute emphasis it puts on the audience imagining the dangers to its characters because it can’t afford showing much of them at all. This is of course the by now traditional POV horror trick, and is a little played out here in the far-flung future of 2015 but in Abduction’s case, the technique still works beautifully, and the film gets by quite well by letting our imagination do most of the work once it has set up the situation.

It does the highly important basic work needed to come by its effectiveness honestly, though. The actors may not be professionals but they sure do feel authentic. It is at least not difficult to believe them to be a pretty typical family of their time and place, which does make it quite easy to get sucked into their reaction to what’s going on around them and sells the strangeness and the threat of their situation.

Alioto also times his film impeccably, using just the right amount of time to set up the characters before the shit really hits the fan, and then demonstrates a fair bit of talent for timing the breaks in the action so that they feel real without letting things drift off into boredom or annoyance with the characters (always dangers in the POV trenches).

U.F.O. Abduction is a fine example of what you can achieve on a shoe-string budget when you have the right idea and the right amount of talent.

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