It’s not Thanksgiving until the whole family is abducted by aliens.
Thanksgiving is a holiday based on contradictions. It is a celebration of what we are grateful for, but which was founded in colonialism. It’s about being with family, but often that family brings us anxiety and rage rather than comfort and love. Thanksgiving exists in this strange liminal space between Halloween and Christmas. It’s part of the nebulous holiday season that seems to stretch more and more year by year.
Basically Thanksgiving is really weird and it’s something I struggle with every year. I’ve had my fair share of terrible Thanksgiving dinners, like when my brother stole my mom’s credit card and spent thousands of dollars trying to cover up a PayPal scam he fell for. This is why I absolutely adore Dean Alioto’s found footage film for TV Alien Abduction: Lake County Incident. It’s a movie that perfectly sums up the bizarre contradictions of Thanksgiving, as aliens wreak havoc on a crumbling family unit.
Now, Alien abduction has a strange production history. This is actually a remake of the 1989 Alioto movie. The McPherson Band, which is quite possibly the first film of images found. The McPherson Band is the gruesome tale of an alien invasion at a child’s birthday party. It’s trite and looks like a family video; there is no story or point on what is going on (until the aliens appear). Then, nine years later, Alioto remade the now cult classic. This time it focused on Thanksgiving and added more alien action and horror. Shifting the story from a birthday to a vacation about being together leads to a heartbreaking story about a family pretending all is well in the face of trauma and tragedy.
Also Read: 5 Movies About Seriously Spoiled Families To Watch This Thanksgiving
Alien abduction takes place on Thanksgiving Day in the McPhersons’ secluded family home. There are three brothers, a sister, a mother, and a group of partners and children fluttering around the house in preparation for dinner. The youngest, Tommy, grabs the video camera and chooses to document the gathering for the sake of posterity. But the camera quickly begins to reveal the intricacies of the McPherson family.
Their father recently passed away and each member of the family mourns in their own way. For their mother, it is a heavy consumption of alcohol, noted by the glass of red wine that never leaves her hand. For older brother Kurt, this manifests as an attempt to be the father figure by aggressively ordering everyone. Then, for the younger brother Tommy, he desperately asks for help coping with his mother’s drinking, only to be told it’s his job to fix it. It’s a grieving family, yet no one seems to want to talk about it. And what speaks more to the spirit of Thanksgiving than pretending trauma doesn’t exist?
Also read: ‘Kristy’ is an unforgettable Thanksgiving [Rotten Outlook]
We can’t forget Kurt’s racism that manifests itself when their sister Melanie arrives with her boyfriend Matthew, who happens to be black. He gives Matthew the cold shoulder and asks his brothers, “Why didn’t she tell us he was Black?” To the brethren’s credit, they blurted out a refrain of “why is this important?” It’s an incredibly disturbing moment that speaks to an unfortunately common experience of witnessing racism from family members and not knowing exactly what to do or say. It only gets worse when Kurt stops yelling racial slurs at Matthew a few minutes later. Even before the aliens appear, Alien abduction perfectly, and painfully, captures what it means to be home for the holidays.
Then the aliens arrive. They burst into the film with a flash of light and a giant spaceship the brothers discover in the neighbor’s meadow. These are not the kind of aliens who come in peace. No, they are there to destroy, as evidenced by their red laser beams which burn and slice through human flesh. And yet, even with three witnesses crying out against the invaders, no one believes them. Instead, their mother continues to lead them to the dinner table, loaded with turkey and all the accessories.
Also Read: These 10 Holiday Horror Titles Should Be On Your Shortlist
The dinner table here, and at most Thanksgiving dinners, symbolizes normalcy. The turkey is there, along with the mashed potatoes and the stuffing, so everything is as it should be. It’s a place for peace, a place to pretend everything is fine. But it is a false symbol. This oblong piece of wood laden with food and emotional baggage cannot chase away death, sadness, or the alien menace lurking right outside the window. Just like you can’t get past grief, the McPhersons can’t deny the presence who is determined to destroy their Thanksgiving dinner. Aliens don’t have a vacation, after all.
In addition to emanating the perfect Thanksgiving ethos, there are quite a few films that owe a lot to Alien abduction. Released a year before The Blair Witch Project, Alien abduction features an on-camera confession scene which is a direct precursor to Heather’s own tearful confession in the found images phenomenon of Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Merrick. In Alien abduction, Tommy retreats to the bathroom for a brief respite from the chaos, a coping mechanism I know all too well. While I have never been the victim of an alien abduction, the bathroom has seen a lot of my tears during more explosive dinners. As Tommy puts the camera down on the counter and starts talking, I remember the times I called my boyfriend, now engaged, hyperventilating about everything going on right outside the door.
Sometimes all you can do is sit on the toilet and talk about how you are feeling. It might not make sense, but at least you’re getting out of your head. Tommy grapples with his impending death at the age of 16. Tommy is still a baby and yet he has endured the trauma of his mother and the grief of his brothers. On top of that, he tries to keep everyone calm in the face of death. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see that you and Tommy know nothing but fate awaits. And yet he still wants to recognize what’s going on. It may be too little, too late, but it’s still recognition.
Sanchez and Merrick wanted to capture that emotional punch in The Blair Witch Project, and they certainly succeeded. There’s something about this direct on-camera address and being so emotionally raw with anyone who can watch that makes these moments feel like more than fiction. It’s more uncomfortable than any fear of jumping because we’re supposed to sit down with those feelings. We are forced to recognize the emotional weight of the impending tragedy.
Alien Abduction: Lake County Incident is a triumph that takes the mundane act of Thanksgiving dinner and makes it heartbreaking and absolutely terrifying. The format of the images found lends itself to a personal feeling which makes the film all the more real. Thanksgiving horror is hard to find. But it’s a genre film that understands what makes this party so terrifying. It captures the contradictions of the celebration and the intricacies of the family, with an alien abduction added for good, a horrific measure.
Tags: Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County Dean Alioto found footage The McPherson Tape
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