One more before bed for Killtoberfest 2: Kill Me Twice, Shame On Oh God I’m Never Going to Finish. This pair of movies are both pretty odd. One is creepy, while the other is briefly horrifying. That’s… about all I got tying these guys together. Oh well.
First up, 2004’s Birth.
Written and directed by Jonathan Glazer (who also did last year’s Scarlett Johansson movie, Under the Skin), Birth is almost (but not quite) like a lost Kubrick movie. Certainly that’s the impression Glazer wants to convey, through the use of bilateral compositions, long takes, and the casting of Nicole Kidman as a wealthy New Yorker (ala Eyes Wide Shut). No masked orgies here, though. Or if there were, I definitely missed that part.
The premise is an intriguing one, and the film’s value comes from the fact that it plays utterly fair with it. See if you can predict where it’s going. Kidman plays Anna, the main character. Anna is about to get married to Joseph. Her first marriage ended 10 years ago, when her then-husband Sean had a heart attack while jogging and died. Today, a 10-year-old boy with a quiet, self-assured stare asks to speak to Anna. “It’s me,” he says. “Sean.” Of course, he cannot possibly be her dead husband. And yet, he seems to know things only Sean would know…
Where the movie goes from there I cannot discuss, but it does so with patience, wit, and aplomb. In particular both the young man playing “Sean” and Kidman are fantastic here, separately as well as together. The pacing is measured but fair, walking us through every step of this seemingly impossible notion until, well, there you are. More interesting even than Kidman’s reactions (which flirt with pedophilia) are the way the film builds in many side characters with their own perspectives–the horror and sadness with which “Sean”‘s parents view his recent declarations, for example. They could have been stock characters; instead, they work to complicate the drama and increase the tension to the breaking point. Everyone has their own way of dealing with the situation, although some are better than others at accommodating the idea. And all along, there’s the boy, Sean. It’s hard to tell which option would be creepier–if he is who he says he is, or if he isn’t. And if he is, what next? The film has a great deal of sympathy for everyone involved, including Anna’s fiancee, Joseph, who suddenly feels he is in danger of being supplanted by a 10-year-old boy.
Birth is a strange movie, and not wholly successful; but it’s well-made, fascinates, and tells the truth. There should be more movies like that.
Next, 1993’s Fire in the Sky, supposedly the best alien abduction movie ever made.
The problem with Fire in the Sky is that it’s based on a book; but that’s also what makes it interesting.
The story concerns a group of men who work together clearing brush off a mountain, a government contract. Travis Walton (DB Sweeney) and Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick), who heads the crew, are best friends. One night the group see a mysterious red light in the sky; on further investigation, it seems to be an alien saucer of some kind. Travis is hit with some kind of light beam, and then vanishes. The rest of the group is accused of his murder.
The problem with the movie is a structural one. Based on a real life account by the real Travis Walton, it’s centered around that traumatic event but has nowhere else to go. The movie tries to make up for this by holding off on depicting the abduction until nearly the end, stalling endlessly with the drama of the crew talking to the police, taking lie detector tests, finding their small town turned against them, etc. But ultimately this is all just filler leading up to the big moment.
Frankly, that moment doesn’t disappoint, and that fact alone is almost enough to recommend this. The depiction of Travis’s abduction by alien life-forms is so incredible–harrowing, horrifying, realized with such realism and specificity–that it actually makes up for the rest of the film.
That said, the movie has nowhere to go afterwards, either. Unlike a movie, real life doesn’t fit into neat little arcs, and actual people who claim to have a run-in with the supernatural do not typically solve their mystery. It’s just a thing that happens, is inexplicable, and… that’s it. There’s no resolution or even the possibility of a resolution.
I don’t know how to say this without being offensive, but watching the movie, trying to figure out how much of this was bullshit, I did come to one possible conclusion: that all this abduction and probing business is really the result of hicks trying to deal with sexual assault, a thing so far outside their worldview that the only way for them to make sense of the trauma is to build a story about aliens. There’s a fair amount of evidence in this film that could be read as pointing towards that conclusion, too. But maybe all of that was unintentional.
Regardless, this isn’t the best alien abduction movie ever made, but it might be the best one based on a true story. It’s certainly the best (only) one I’ve seen. If you’re looking for one alien abduction movie, check this one out, but probably just fast-forward to the good part.
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