J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Alienated: a Trufer Learns the Truth is Out There

Ever wondered what it would be like if Edward Albee wrote an episode of The X-Files? Maybe something like this. Nate’s wife does not want to hear his crazy UFO talk. Frankly, she is mostly done listening to him altogether. Unfortunately, he just might be right this time. Communication is a challenge and intimacy breeds contempt in Brian Ackley’s Alienated (trailer here), which opens this Saturday in Los Angeles.

As a 9/11 conspiracy theory nut, Nate is so unappealing, even the aliens probably won’t want to abduct him. Eventually, we will learn why Paige is so justly exasperated with Nate, but during the early going, we can just assume it is because he is a lazy, immature man-child. Evidently, Nate is easily distracted by things, like specious engineering claims and the UFO he thinks he filmed on his camcorder. Paige is not inclined to take whatever has his so fired up seriously, which leads to a “fine, I won’t show you,” passive aggressive snit. Yet, somehow their blind neighbor Griffin understands exactly what is going on in the skies and in their bedroom. Just when sighting reports start to creep into the local newscast, Nate and Paige finally start to really have it out—and it will be more brutal than an alien probing.

In some ways, Alienated is not unlike Richard Bates, Jr.’s Trash Fire, except Ackley completely downplays the genre elements in favor of the scathing relationship drama. In each film, the troubled couples know exactly what to say to hurt each other, which they will do without reservation. In this case, Ackley’s dialogue is much less sarcastic, but it leaves even more blood on the floor.

Watching Jen Burry and George Katt go at it as Paige and Nate produces mixed, vacillating reactions. Sometimes their commitment is absolutely awe-inspiring, but as the effect accumulates, it sort of makes a viewer want to rip their face off. Still, you cannot be lukewarm in your response. However, as Griffin, the late Taylor Negron (a scene-stealer in 80s comedies like Better Off Dead and Young Doctors in Love) is eerily mystical without ever going over-the-top. Something about his too infrequent scenes ring weirdly true, evoking memories of odd encounters with awkwardly straight-talking strangers (or the times you have decided to unload a random truth-dump, if you happen to be that guy yourself).

Alienated can be uncomfortable to spend time with, but the integrity of Ackley’s approach is impressive. He somehow he also manages to maintain a sense that something cosmically ominous is about to happen just outside our field of vision. The evocative alien art seen with the openings credits greatly helps establishing that vibe right from the start. Recommended for those who appreciate extreme chamber dramas, Alienated kicks off a week-long release this Saturday (4/16) at the Acme Theatre in Hollywood.

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