Thursday, September 27, 2012

30 Days of Nightmares #1: ALTERED (2006)

The Story: Four friends in a cabin in the woods, bound by a common experience with alien abduction, instigate a small-scale war with visitors from another planet. 

Expectations: I had high hopes for this one because of its pedigree.  The film was directed by Eduardo Sanchez, one of the creators of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999).  I know that some horror fans hate BLAIR WITCH, but it worked for me.  The film was distributed by Rogue Pictures, who'd had a decent track record with SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), SEED OF CHUCKY (2004), CRY WOLF (2005), and THE RETURN (2006).  The story sounded to me like a variation on Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, but hopefully scarier and without all the flatulence.

Reaction: I'm a little bummed that I started my 30 days experiment with this one.  It's fairly well plotted, but the execution feels very by-the-numbers.  It's basically a claustrophobic siege movie, focused as much on the interaction between the characters as on the alien threat.  Unfortunately, the bickering between the four friends quickly becomes tiresome, making this seem like a very lightweight version of THE THING (1982).  Compounding the problem is the fact that the alien itself isn't very scary.  The visuals are okay (thankfully, not entirely digital) but there's very little mystery about the nature of the beast and/or its intentions.

This got me wondering why there are so few great horror movies about alien abduction.  Done right (see COMMUNION and FIRE IN THE SKY), they're as terrifying as any great ghost story... but I think most filmmakers get caught up in UFO cliches and overlook the fact that the only way to create a believable threat is to create believable human characters who can respond to it.  Without that, the movie is just going through the motions.  If you want to watch a good recent alien movie, SPLINTER (2008) and ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011) are more fun, DISTRICT 9 (2009) is more intelligent, and THE FOURTH KIND (2009) is much scarier. 

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: One of the characters plays tug-of-war with the alien... using his own intestines.  Guess who wins? 


  1. Joe...really love your experiment. Enjoyed the setup too. I have not seen this film. I've always been on the fence which is probably wher I will remain. For I agree with you that fire in the sky and communion are both very good. I also loved splinter and district 9. It would seem we share a similar view on this sub genre. Thank you, SFF. Look forward to the experiment but hold on to your entrails.

  2. Thanks, Gordon. I feel very strongly about this subject matter lately, as I'm working on two different projects about alien abduction (!)... Definitely check out The Fourth Kind, if you haven't already.

  3. Good luck on them. It's a great subject.
    Actually I did a very extensive review of the fourth kind a bit ago. I have seen it and i didI like it.

  4. Just found the review on your website... I'm linking it to my original post, so that anyone who follows this comment thread can find it. I'm intrigued by your mention of the "white owl." I just re-read Whitley Strieber's COMMUNION, and a hugely significant part of his abduction experience -- a Freudian "screen memory," covering something too horrifying to remember. This makes me think of the constant reference to owls in TWIN PEAKS. I'm feeling suddenly compelled to go back and watch the final episode of that series, which I remember as having a unique (seemingly Native American) mythology involving a "Black Lodge" that could be interpreted as some kind of alien narrative.

  5. Absolutely do so... I think like you in this way and there is no doubt that kind of research may pay dividends. Whatever it is you are writing. I think that is a splendid idea and very relative to your arguments. I still need to see TP.

    All the best Joe