So many science fiction movies centered on an alien in our midst make the threat far too widespread. If the entire world is at stake, it’s harder to develop a personal connection with any of the characters. I won’t even mention 2012 examples of the kind of movie I’m talking about. An indie film will usually do the opposite, focusing more on character than special effects. Eduardo Sanchez’ 2006 thriller Altered doesn’t really do either of those things, but still manages to fill its 88-minute runtime with enough basic storytelling skills to keep a viewer interested. At least, a viewer that isn’t immediately nauseated by unsympathetic rednecks yelling a lot.
This was Sanchez’s first film after hurtling into the cinematic stratosphere with 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, which he co-wrote and co-directed with Daniel Myrick. It took him seven years, and he went from a witch in the woods to aliens in the woods, but at least they end up in a house this time. Fifteen years prior to the film’s setting, a group of friends were abducted by aliens, which, as you can imagine, changed their lives forever. Two of them were held longer than the others. One of those two died. The other one was…altered. Dum dum dummmmm.
The overbearing but sensible Duke (Brad William Henke), the weak-willed Otis (Blair Witch‘s Michael C. Williams), and the asinine loudmouth Cody (Paul McCarthy-Boyington) are the three friends who weren’t messed with, and they’ve spent the latter half of the intervening years seeking vengeance. Don’t ask me how they know when aliens are hanging around these woods. Duke admits a whole lot of what they do is just drink beer out there, but still, that’s a long time to walk around the woods with a harpoon grappling hook.
When the film begins, the trio actually does capture one of the extra-terrestrials, which hits the “really cool but not great” notch on the scale of cheap practical alien costumes. They have to keep the thing alive, or else heed the wrath of the things’s family or friends or something — shit would get bad right quick. So they seek out the forested residence of the altered man, Wyatt (Adam Kaufman), as a place to hide the unconscious alien and…well, it never gets to the point where this half-formed plan gets a full formation, because the alien wakes up, and shit (bam) gets (Bam) real (BAM).
If viewers hadn’t already gotten to this conclusion, this is the point when the movie clearly becomes just limited-location creature feature, and that’s probably the best thing it could have done. Even though these guys aren’t very likable and make some ridiculous decisions as the film goes on, their characters remain in the same orbit throughout, and there is something that reaches palpable suspense once things start going haywire. It doesn’t remain constant, but because the action is contained to the house and the woods, the danger is always imminent, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to see some of these people die. Keeping that body count interesting are co-stars Catherine Mangan, who plays Wyatt’s miscast girlfriend Hope, and the late, great, gravel-voiced James Gammon, who plays the local sheriff.
In these Giant Freakin’ Queue Reviews, my unofficial goal is in finding flicks to watch on the weekend with a friend or loved one, and perhaps some intoxicants. If something gets t0o heady, that’s fine, and if it’s completely over the top, that’s even better. I’m just trying not to be bored out of my scalp. Altered is missing anything cerebrally sci-fi, which is unfortunate, but it works as far as simple alien thriller goes, which isn’t something that I say a lot. Along with, “No, no. There is far too much bacon on this plate.” Speaking of pork products, keep in mind that this film also fits into the horror category based purely on the gory effects used as a part of the alien’s tactics, best kept secret for now. Let it be known one of these gross moments is probably the best part of the film, because it’s nearly the only moment that provokes pure surprise and an awkward, grossed-out amusement. That, by the by, is my absolute favorite emotion to go through, and I wish this film was full of those moments.
This is a film that contains the lines, “Thanks for the newsflash, brainiac,” and “I don’t think the duct tape’s gonna work this time, Wyatt.” Its cast would not be confused with certified thespians. No shit will be scared out of you. But the same level of entertainment value is there throughout, and I’m surprised as anyone that I enjoyed this flick to the extent that I did. Which was about as much as I enjoy processed foods. Altered will not alter you, but it will be the movie that you watch when you are watching it, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that.
See Altered if you like: completely irredeemable characters named Cody; abduction tales that feature no anal probing; the rare usage of a welder’s helmet for functional purposes; momentarily considering having alien-infected genitalia.
Thanks for reading, guys! Check back next weekend for another new look at another non-new film, and remember to always expect an anal probing, even when you hear about the ones where it doesn’t happen.