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New Release Review - ALIENATED

A conspiracy theorist struggles to convince his long suffering other half of his beliefs.



Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Brian Ackley

Starring: George Katt, Jen Burry, Taylor Negron



Even if the payoff is not as substantial as one would hope, or, indeed, the out of this world marketing would lead you to believe, Alienated’s rumination on male/female interaction is uncomfortably authentic in its earthy portrayal of a relationship in stasis.


Writer/director Brian Ackley’s lo-sci-fi drama opens with a remarkable sequence entirely composed of hand drawn images depicting an alien invasion. Successively we see Giger-esque figures encroaching upon the everyday in carefully rendered pencils, most strikingly when a multi limbed spider creature spreads out unseen from beneath a mattress, the couple above so far unaware of the creeping menace beneath. The title sequence is lovely, but perhaps slightly misleading: following the pulp promise of the opening, we cut to the lower middle class milieu of Paige and Nate (perhaps the couple pictured in bed earlier), and, following the still frames of the opening, envisage another kind of inertia; their stalling relationship.


The acting and chemistry between George Katt (Nate) and Jen Burry (Paige) is especially good, with both convincing as a lived in, tired out couple. This is just as well, as essentially, Alienated is a two hander, an extended discussion-come-argument that builds from prime berk Nate attempting to show long suffering Paige the video that he shot of a strange light in the night sky, and Paige’s understandable disinterest. Problem is, Nate is one of those conspiracy nuts, you know the sort, the type who will bore you stiff about the satanic imagery in Rihanna videos, or, as Nate bangs on about, the ‘truther’ version of what really went down on 9/11. No wonder their friends make excuses not to hang out with them on a Friday night, leaving them alone to fill the gaping maw of their coupling with minor squabbles - these pair have more real world concerns than a spider creature under the bed.


The marketing and natty credits of Alienated suggest invasion action, but really, it’s all talk; an endless back and forth between Paige and Nate, picking over the passive aggressive antagonism of their pairing. This makes for a film that is rather airless, one that is at times challenging to get through. As an advert against the hegemonic orthodoxy of heterosexual coupling, however, Alienated works like gangbusters. There is a recognisable, inconvenient truth in Nate’s characterisation as a windbag manboy - for a lot of men, it is not enough that they themselves are intrigued by a particular something, but also imperative that everyone else they know conforms to their tastes. Witness the bros all a quiver at the negative reviews of Batman V Superman, the loud and infantile behaviour of football fans in town on a match day. Nate is of similar beta male stock; whiny, self-righteous and insecure. ‘Is it my job as a wife to care about your every little interest?’, Paige plaintively asks, while Nate has a go, exhorting her to ‘think for herself’ as he trots out the sort of tinfoil doctrine that any wacked out youtuber has already covered in amateur depth on some daft little video or another.

Amongst this opportune and coruscating portrayal of the millennial man (seriously, has there ever been a point in time when men have been shriller or felt more hard done by?), there is a sense of the otherworldly pertained to through the couple’s neighbour, Griffin (veteran actor Taylor Negron, whose passing this film is dedicated to), a strange old man who stares into the sky, and, despite his amaurotic disability, is able to ‘see’ to the heart of Nate’s displeasure, offering him some quasi mystical pep talk. Even a blind man can envision Nate’s idiocy towards Paige! - and we are left in no doubt either. For a film which is essentially dialogue driven, Alienated is filmed smoothly, and has an eye for a, um, interesting shot: at one point, Paige has a bath, presumably to escape Nate’s blathering, but nonetheless he follows her in, and proceeds to use the toilet to urinate. We witness this in a shot that is close up on Paige’s face, Nate’s ochre stream of piss diagonally bisecting the screen from top right to bottom left, with Burry’s expression registering discomfort and disgust over the minute or so sequence. It really is quite something.


It is this sort of intimacy that characterises Alienated and its resounding, if ultimately unsatisfying, interpretation of a certain type of modern relationship. It is pretty clear that beautiful, patient and Jane Austen reading Paige is far out of Nate’s league from the off; the film’s hour plus running time simply serves to compound this (although, confusingly, the final scene also seems to undo this dynamic). But, even if the payoff is not as substantial as one would hope, or, indeed, the out of this world marketing would lead you to believe, Alienated’s rumination on male/female interaction is uncomfortably authentic in its earthy portrayal of a relationship in stasis.
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