Friday, July 12, 2013

Grainy aliens subject cineamgoers to double assault this July

By Robbie Graham Silver Screen Saucers

A new alien abduction-themed ‘found footage’ horror flick was released July 5 in selected US theaters, including the Quad Cinema in New York City and the Gateway Film Center in Columbus, OH. The official synopsis for Jimmy Loweree’s Absence, reads as follows:

“Doctors are baffled when a young expectant mother Liz (Erin Way, "Alphas"), wakes to find her nearly-to-term pregnancy disappear overnight. The police are investigating the situation as a missing child case and only her husband, Rick (Eric Matheny, J. Edgar) and brother, Evan (Ryan Smale, Damage) trust her version of events.

Told in the "found footage" style, Evan looks for answers by filming his sister’s experience. The trio embarks upon a trip to the mountains to escape the attention of the police and prying neighbors. When the trip spins out of control they realize that whatever happened with Liz and her baby isn’t over. None of them are safe.”

Absence has received generally poor reviews from critics, who have groaned not only at the film’s under-developed plot and lack of suspense, but also at its reliance upon the ‘found footage’ stylistic, which has long been at risk of wearing thin with audiences, despite its popularity since the late-1990s among directors working in the fantastical genres.

In a recent article for Indiewire, Loweree took the opportunity to defend his movie’s found footage approach, writing:

“Some of the best scary movies, for me, have been found footage. They set up a relatable situation that quickly connects me to the characters. The films make me wonder what I would do in those same circumstances. Also, this isn't a new style. Found footage has been around for a while in various forms and with different names. Now it's evolving, and I think it will keep doing so. I think we'll continue to see new found footage films that will be really good (with some really bad) as we've already discovered in the past few years.

With "Absence" I honestly felt, right or wrong, that found footage was the right choice. The style allowed me to approach these characters in a way that I wouldn't get to otherwise. It's also cheap. I wanted to make a movie, not just keep thinking about making a movie. So this was the right fit.”

The horror anthology V/H/S/2– which is released in cinemas today (July 12) – also applies found footage to the alien abduction scenario in a segment titled “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”, directed by Jason Eisener.
V/H/S/2 (2013)
Perhaps the most high-profile UFO/alien movies to have adopted the found footage approach in recent years are The Fourth Kind (2009) and Apollo 18 (2011), the former being the more commercially successful, but both being critically flayed.

The Fourth Kind was notable for the wrong reasons even before its release. The film was purported by Universal studios to be a true story “based on actual case studies” from the files of Dr. Abigail Tyler – a psychologist who had collected disturbing testimonies from the town of Nome, Alaska, where numerous residents allegedly had vanished since the 1960s. Archive news clippings from various Alaskan newspapers were presented by Universal online, painting a picture of a town historically plagued by UFO sightings and apparent alien abductions. 

The film itself was presented as a docudrama featuring “real” footage documenting the events in Nome alongside dramatic reconstructions with Hollywood actors. In the opening scene, actress Milla Jovovich, looking directly into the camera, tells the audience: I’m actress Milla Jovovich and I will be portraying Dr. Abigail Tyler... every scene in this movie is supported by archive footage.”

The Fourth Kind (2009)

At various points throughout the film the ‘dramatic reconstructions’ and footage of the ‘real events’ are presented simultaneously in split-screen in order that the viewer can clearly distinguish between the two; the irony being that none of it is real. Not only was the “real” footage fabricated in its entirety, but so too were all of the Alaskan news clippings used by Universal in its marketing campaign. Dr. Abigail Tyler never existed; neither did anyone else portrayed in the film. When this elaborate Hollywood sham was revealed, Universal was served with a lawsuit from the Alaska Press Club, to whom the studio agreed to pay $20,000 for undermining the credibility of the various Alaskan papers whose names had been exploited by the studio. 

Clearly, found footage isn’t always the hassle-free money-saver studios want it to be. But, with both Absenceand V/H/S/2in cinemas this week, this lo-tech aesthetic seems to be lending itself increasingly to sci-fi themes. Don’t be surprised if grainy images of horrifying alien entities continue to flicker across our screens for years to come.

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