Saturday, September 21, 2013
Alien Abductees Get Even in Altered (2006)
As movie monsters go, filmmakers have gotten plenty of mileage from the concept of extraterrestrial threats. There have been countless movies about high-tech alien invaders (War of the Worlds, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers), parasitic alien biology (Alien, The Thing), and too-close-for-comfort contact with an alien intelligence (Fire in the Sky, The Fourth Kind). In the midst of this crowded field of alien terrors is Altered, a 2006 creature feature that was directed and co-written by Eduardo Sánchez, co-writer and co-director of The Blair Witch Project.
Altered is about four men who were abducted and tortured by alien visitors when they were teenagers. After years of unsuccessfully coping with the trauma they endured, three of the men decide to hunt down and capture one of the visitors as an act of retribution; yet once they capture an alien, they're not completely sure of what they should do next. To make matters worse, their alien captive isn't quite as helpless as he looks and he has some sinister plans of his own ....
I'm recommending Altered to creature feature fans for many reasons. It's a well-made film that takes a unique approach to both alien horror movies and modern alien abduction lore. It effectively uses practical effects to bring its alien menace to life (no CGI here), and it also does an excellent job at balancing the horror with some bits of clever humor. Some scenes feature inventive examples of splatstick humor, and there are a few bits of redneck humor because the abductees in this movie are working class southern white men. However, this is not Tucker and Dale vs. Evil--Altered is a tale of terror at its core. In fact, some of the concepts and visuals in this movie reminded me of Scanners and The Fly, two classic "body horror" films by David Cronenberg.
Because most horror films feature characters who are being stalked by and defending themselves from a monster, the movie's story about men who search for and capture a monster makes it very different from most other films of its kind. Even though Altered is a horror movie, the pacing of its story reminded me fatalistic pulp crime dramas that begin with a major event (e.g., a bank heist gone wrong) and then subsequently unravel as the protagonists attempt and repeatedly fail to cope with the events they set in motion. The film also lets you understand the characters and the bitter motivations behind their actions. While hunting extremely deadly monsters sounds like something only a fool would do, you come to realize how the abduction left the main characters so broken in their adulthood that alien hunting has become the only meaningful thing left for them to do with their lives.
Altered ranks alongside Abominable and Alien Raiders as one of the better low-budget creature features to be released within the last ten years. It's everything that big-budget alien movies such as Signs and Dreamcatcher should have been but weren't, proving that some of the best horror films out there are the ones that never made it to national movie theater chains.