Altered (2006): Let's Kick E.T.'s Ass

I was in the mood for something I knew nothing about, as I browsed through the Netflix Instant queue. Some days I miss the times before the internets, when it was much easier to stumble upon films. I knew I was taking a chance by choosing a random indie sci-fi/horror film, but sometimes, you have to live life on the edge, right? Little did I know that the film I chose was from the director of The Blair Witch Project and little did I know that I was in for a treat.

What originally lured me into giving Altered a shot was its premise. Fifteen years after a group of high school students were abducted by aliens, they seek revenge for the irreversible effects. From a story perspective, Altered is the perfect  low budget science fiction film. Its story is simple and rooted in characters, not relying on the usual spectacle and scale. Essentially, 80% of the film takes place in a small house, as our heroes capture an alien and restrain it inside a garage, unsure of what to do next. Emotionally charged, they wish to torture the alien until death, but the level-headed protagonist of the bunch suggests that this would be a dangerous move. Will the rest of the extra-terrestrials seek retaliation? Will they be able to hide out much longer without making a move?
"So, uh, who's idea was this again?"

Most of the film's interest comes from watching the character's interact, each revealing different motivations and subtly demonstrating the life-altering effects of the abduction. The actors are surprisingly good too. The standout performance, according to me, was delivered by Paul McCarthy-Boyington. Even though he is the least likeable of the bunch at first, he is stellar in this role as the gung-ho, harpoon-shooting brother of one of the abductees who never made it back to Earth. When he is at his lowest, he really shines, gaining sympathy from the audience. Overall, it was refreshing to see a group of heroes that didn't look the part. If you see a group of hicks sporting jean jackets and mullets in a horror film, they're either padding for the body count or they're rapist cannibals.  Instead, these all-American boys are the stars of the show.
Real men of genius take a harpoon gun with them.

While the film isn't heavy on effects, there are two major effects pieces that are done very well: the alien itself and an infected body of a slowly decomposing corpse. The filmmakers shoot the alien the right way, slowly revealing bits and pieces of the creature, never giving us a full sight until far into the film. The alien design itself is pretty cool - not incredibly frightening, but the design is solid and effective for the film. The infected corpse design is brutal, almost difficult to look at sometimes. Kudos to the effects team for making their budget count.

Technically speaking, the film is solid. There's nothing incredibly impressive about the cinematography or sound work, but there's nothing negative to say either. Everything works as it should, but my only complaint would be that the film lacks an overall sense of style. The shot design seems almost too basic throughout the film. However, I'd still rather have the camera go unnoticed than be distracting.
 He didn't like the bath toys.

If you've happened across this title on Netflix or if you're thinking about adding it to your list, give it a shot. It's a refreshingly simple, clever story that is told in a smart, engaging way. Sure , I have some things on my wish list that could have made the film better, but why bother picking it apart? I liked it. I hope you will too.