Even among the shakiness of the camera, a found footage horror film still needs a focused director to hit those narrative sweet spots. And luckily for IFC Midnight’s Alien Abduction, director Matty Beckerman’s focus on bringing effective scares makes for a fun and occasionally frightening ride.
Beckerman spoke about the real life inspiration to his found footage thriller and putting together one of the films scariest sequences. Be warned, there are minor spoilers for the film inside but nothing too damaging to the story of Alien Abduction.
What inspired you to put together a project like Alien Abduction?
Beckerman: Well, I was living up in the mountains of Western North Carolina and there’s a real legend that’s been around for over 800 years about people seeing these lights on this mountain ridge. This legend dates back to the Cherokee Indians, and at the same time, there’s been hundreds of people who claim to have been abducted there after seeing these lights.
It’s been documented by the US Government and National Geographic; it’s a real place, and I think it’s a bigger deal than Roswell or Area 51 because you can go to this ridge, pull off on the highway at places that are clearly marked and see the lights yourself. I’ve seen those lights myself, and I’ve videotaped and taken pictures of them and I’ve interviewed a lot of local people who have claimed they’ve been abducted there. That was the inspiration.
The extraterrestrials in Alien Abduction get more screen time than most creatures in found footage films do. What was your inspiration for the design of these creatures?
Beckerman: I wanted to stay true to form to the actual stories and how people claim that they really look. Six-legged aliens are not shown in true-to-life stories; it’s always the grey-skinned, big-eyed look that’s claimed as real.
There’s a greater build up for suspense in Alien Abduction over the jump-scare type of horror normally seen in found footage films. What drove you to that approach rather than “easier” scares?
I am a huge fan of directors like Alfred Hitchcock, who can tell a suspenseful tale and capture imagination, even if it’s not something happening on-camera and only in the sounds that you heard. So that pushed my mind towards suspense, and I loved The Birds, hence why we have that scene with those birds in the movie. I also have loved thrillers, so that’s been an inspiration, as well as science fiction. I’m a huge science fiction nerd.
You didn’t write the film yourself, as the script is attributed to Robert Lewis, but did you have any part in shaping the story?
Beckerman: Well, with the found footage thing, the main concept we needed to keep from the script was that the camera belonged to an 11-year-old autistic kid. I actually spoke to a psychologist who told me one of his patients was autistic who could only communicate with the rest of the world via video camera. So he’d take this camera everywhere with his family and record everything that he did, and that really influenced me to tell the story from a found footage perspective and to show the medium why someone would keep holding on to the camera.
I think that was a good reason as to why the cameraman would need the camera; he’s autistic and he needs it. So I came up with the concept up in North Carolina, and then I worked with my best friend, Robert, whom I grew up with, on the script. Robert did the majority of the writing, but the concept was between the both of us.
Considering the film’s found footage style, did the actors have more freedom to improvise away from the script?
Beckerman: Yeah. The dialogue is completely ad-libbed, from start to finish. We did have a script and we had some scenes we needed to accomplish, but I really let the actors go with my direction and find who the characters were rather than stick to the words written down on the page. I think that gives their performances more authenticity and a little bit of realism rather than be stiff or dry at any point. The actors were able to become their characters and really learn them.
In the beginning of the film, there’s an almost exposé introduction that’s never revisited once the found footage aspect launches and concludes definitively. Did you ever consider tying up the film with another segment and give the film a documentary-esque thesis or was it always your intention to let the found footage speak for itself?
Well, that footage in the beginning is all real people. Those are all real people who live or work by that ridge and have claimed to been abducted. There’s an actual professor from Appalachian State University who teaches physics and astronomy there and is an expert on the lights. That’s all real. We filmed the movie first and then we filmed for a week or two getting local interviews, which were so compelling that it made sense to open the movie with them. That wasn’t originally what I had planned, but it worked out.
There’s a bit of a subversive streak in the “pick-’em-off’ structure of the film. Were you cognizant of that when plotting out the film?
Beckerman: Yeah, I did want to shake things up. In these kinds of films, you don’t expect the patriarch of the family to be the first person who is taken. That’s not normally what happens; they’re usually the ones trying to defend the family. So when you take that character out first, you build extra concern for the family.
For this writer, the sequence that stands out the most is the tunnel sequence. What was the process of putting that scene together?
Beckerman: Man, that was so much fun, and we did that in a real tunnel on a “road to nowhere” in Bryson City, North Carolina. And if you drive down these roads in North Carolina, you will get to these tunnels that go straight through the mountain. The influence for the scene came from my family and I used to drive through these mountains and we would get lost on these backroads. Sometimes, your GPS doesn’t get a signal and these roads are so remote that nobody really traveled on them. Some didn’t even exist on modern maps!
I used to daydream and think about getting lost on these roads, so the tunnel sequence came from that, and it was a lot of fun to shoot. The tunnel is about a thousand yards, and getting there and shooting that scene was freaky in-and-of itself. The found footage aspect worked when the frequency messes with the camera, because it instills a sense of panic. There’s not a lot of huge “jump-out-of-your-seat” scares in the film, but there’s a couple right there, like when you see the alien for the first time, that are absolutely terrifying. It was scary enough just being in there to shoot it.
Alien Abduction is released and distributed by Captive Cinema. It will be shown in cinemas nationwide starting June 11.
Alien Abduction director Matty Beckerman includes interviews of people claiming to have been abducted by extra-terrestrials
by posted on June 4, 2014