Writer/director Brian Ackley’s Alienated is not an easy film to review for a genre-film-specific magazine; it may be a bit spoilerish for me to tell you why but I’m going to do so anyway. Though touted and marketed as a drama, science fiction movie, and even a thriller, the latter two descriptions are rather misleading because there are no thrills to be had – at least not in the traditional sense – and the sci-fi elements take up only about 7 minutes of the film’s 80 minutes before the ending credits roll. Of those 7 minutes, 4 minutes are during the opening credits sequence, and they are made up of a series of sketches of alien life forms and monsters. The film does offer rewards to patient viewers, though, but you had better be in the mood for some heavy drama when you view this one.
In the interest of fairness, I will let readers know that I am more often than not turned off by dramas that involve constant arguing – and guess what drives Alienated? Nate (George Katt) and Paige (Jen Burry) have known each other about 7 years and have been married for 4 years. He is a self-obsessed narcissist, an artist who appears in every one of his paintings and who is also a 9/11 truther. She works at a medical facility and is more interested in socializing and material comforts like a working car and a home of their own than he is. She prefers coming home to a hot bath and watching reruns of The Michael J. Fox Show to listening to him talk about his conspiracy theories.
One evening, Nate sees a UFO near their home. He keeps it a secret for a while, brooding around the house and acting sullen and mopey. They argue a lot about big things, small things, and many things in between. They argue a lot about the other person’s selfish behavior. Eventually Nate decides to tell Paige about his sighting but he initially does so in a passive-aggressive manner which, after more arguing, turns into a confrontational manner.
At one point, Nate walks outside and meets their next-door neighbor for the first time. Griffin (Taylor Negron) is a blind, philosophical, self-proclaimed astral projection practitioner and the third doleful character in the story. Griffin’s screen time is short but his sometimes existential, sometimes otherwise heady musings and advice play an important role in Nate’s character arc.
I found Nate and Paige to be stubborn, annoying characters. They both snipe at each other, bickering endlessly, he with one beer after another and she with less occasional glasses of wine. I had no emotional investment in their relationship so I wasn’t driven to see how things would wind up between them. Rather, I was motivated to finish Alienated to see if and how astral projection or the UFO sighting might be addressed at the end of the film and because of the first-rate performances by the three leads.
For all of the issues I have with Alienated, I found its acting to be outstanding, its screenplay to be realistic in its dialog, and the direction to be a solid achievement. George Katt and Jenn Burry bring naturalistic performances to their characters, never veering into histrionics. I fully bought them as a couple in its final stages before a break-up.
As a director, Brian Ackley successfully creates a small, claustrophobic world for his three main characters that he brings to stirring life. His dialog is well written and achingly true. Some viewers may find some uncomfortable humor in the film at times, though that aspect didn’t strike a chord with me. For example, there is a scene where Nate interrupts Paige’s bath to urinate; we watch her react uneasily with his stream of urine in the foreground of the shot. This sequence lasts for 42 seconds.
As a well-written, well-acted drama that takes chances by introducing elements of science fiction to a story about a crumbling marriage, Alienated is an intriguing experiment that should find appeal with many viewers. Genre-film fans seeking something out of the ordinary should give it a chance, but those looking for action or a certain amount of special effects might want to look elsewhere.
Alienated: (3 / 5)