Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998) dir. Dean Alioto
One of the few pre-Blair Witch FF films, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County is an expanded, slightly higher-budgeted remake of the director's own UFO Abduction a.k.a. The McPherson Tape (1989), a hoax tape that was passed around the UFO community for years on home-recorded bootlegs as some of the most compelling evidence of alien contact. Of course to our eyes now it looks rather quaint, but if you can transport your mind back to 1989 it's easy to imagine the film's effect. Coming so early in the initial FF movement, Alien Abduction doesn't have much prior material to rip off, and so manages to stake out its own ground, unlike those of the current decade who seem all too aware of their predecessors' tricks. The film's desire to be mistaken for genuine found footage is its greatest asset-- events unfold in real-time, the situation escalates as one would expect it to (rendering the camera's constant presence more natural), and characters act believably (the C.O., soon after his first alien encounter, wets himself; he then spends the next few minutes running upstairs to change his pants). Moreover, the film's premise is spectacularly eerie: the large McPherson family gathers on the old, remote homestead for Thanksgiving dinner as an alien spacecraft lands nearby, knocking out the electricity and forcing the family to hole up in the house to defend themselves. As the house is transformed into a creepy, candlelit rural haven from the slowly encroaching alien presence outside, the film builds so well to its climax that when it arrives it cannot help but be a disappointment (it is). The film's low quality home video resolution is also a benefit in that it makes the few brief shots of the aliens all the more convincing, allowing us in one extreme close-up to see the peach fuzz coating the scalp of one of the aliens. The found footage is inter-cut with brief, non-distracting interview segments with various "authorities" (on UFO abductions, video manipulation, and the like) around commercial breaks (Alien Abduction originally ran as a TV special on UPN). The best of these is an interview with the film's director, Dean Alioto, who claims that he believes the footage is real, but if it is a hoax then he "should have directed it." Wink!
In Memorium (2005) dir. Amanda Gusack
In Memorium [sic] is a film notable for misspelling its own title. Someone involved in the production, or maybe one of its fans (?), has taken to smugly claiming that it's "Paranormal Activity before Paranormal Activity," which is utter horseshit because there's almost nothing shared between the two. While in Oren Peli's film the lunkhead Micah plants his camera around the house in order to capture the supernatural shenanigans afoot, In Memorium features its lunkhead protagonist setting up cameras around the house he is renting because he has cancer and wishes to record his body wasting away in its final month of life (because, what else is he to do?). This lunkhead only just so happens to capture some ghostly goings-on because, as it so happens, his illness has supernatural origins (Gasp! This aspect is actually kind of neat, in a deranged way. The premise is that a shitty dead mom is returning from the grave to enact revenge against her embarrassed sons. Whoops, *SPOILERS*). It's a bad movie-- one proudly displaying melodramatic acting, a shaving cream bikini, and a recurring joke about stale crackers-- but I'm probably being more hostile towards it than it deserves because its use of the FF conceit is a total joke. The dying lunkhead has installed security cameras covering every inch of his rented house, but instead of the footage looking like actual security cam footage (see: Paranormal Activity 2, Apartment 143) it's more akin to a series of cinematic medium shots that you would forget were meant to be coming from consumer cameras if not for the fact that every once in awhile you catch a glimpse of one strapped to a wall. The film also edits its scenes between different camera angles, allowing for cinematic perspectives but obliterating any semblance of FF verisimilitude. I do, however, thank In Memorium for one brief line of dialogue that shall stick with me for some time to come: the dying lunkhead, when describing how he met his girlfriend on the set of an independent film, relates that "the film cost nothing, but she looked like a million bucks." One of those things is true.
The Devil Inside (2012) dir. William Brent Bell
A complete and unrepentant waste of everyone's time, The Devil Inside has approximately one novel idea: the notion that there is a group of rogue, unsanctioned priests performing exorcisms all around Italy. The rest, as they say, is garbage. Most of the notes I took during my viewing of this film became incredulous questions rather than observations: "is this a movie? are these even characters? am I supposed to buy this as High Definition footage from 1988? is that what's called "development"? are these supposed to be set pieces? what does this ending offer to the story? what story? who are they trying to fool here?" After fourteen films in a row, it's only The Devil Inside that has managed to make me angry. It's neither frightening, interesting, original, nor enthusiastic (jeepers, even Blackwood Evil has it beat on that last count). For a film about the salvation of souls, it sure could use one of its own. Sniff that irony. It's a cash-grab with a well-edited trailer that somehow managed to net over $100 million, despite its R-rating. A FF film has never given me motion sickness, but I'm feeling queasy now. Is this the genre's death knell? It certainly feels like the death of something or other. My innocence? The FF genre is in a weird spot halfway through 2012-- yeah, we had Chronicle, but we also had Project X. Today, a new Asylum FF flick (which they have the gall to label under the genre "Reality") is being released, to the cheers of no one. Where do we go from here? Can this genre, battered and bruised as it may be, be rescued? Where are the innovators and the storytellers? Innocence lost, but they can't steal my optimism: those champions will arrive, and soon. But they won't be the minds behind The Devil Inside. Of this I can assure you.