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by Jay Seaver

"As off-putting as its title."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: Given the focus of the festival in question, it's not surprising that a fair number of the negative assessments of "Alienated" were along the lines of it barely being science fiction, but that's letting it off too easily. This movie is a chore to sit through regardless of which genre labels it is tagged with, an improvised mess that never discovers a route around its problems or a way to mask is unpleasantness compelling.

It takes place, mostly, in the home of Nate (George Katt) and Paige (Jen Burry), a couple that has been together long enough to no longer be amused by each others' quirks when not taking the other for granted. Paige is the breadwinner right now, with Nate apparently looking for work in a half-heated fashion, between posting 9/11 conspiracy theories online and working on paintings, one of which was recently given to an ex-girlfriend. It's a point of contention between them even when Paige just wants to take a bath and watch The Michael J. Fox Show after work, even if it's a rerun. Not likely, because Nate saw a UFO earlier and thinks that Paige should be a lot more interested in that.

This kind of soured-relationship movie tends to bring out one of three feelings toward its outcome in a viewer: Either you hope that the couple will work things out because there seems to be something with saving; you sadly hope they break up because, even if there's something appealing in one or both beneath the fighting, it's too far gone or some ingredient was wrong from the start; or you hope that they'll stick together because they are two genuinely miserable people and their staying together not only prevents them from spreading that may to other partners but increases the chance of a double homicide which just gets rid of them altogether. That Alienated falls into the third category is actually kind of impressive; it's easy enough to lose patience with Nate, but especially since Paige at least seems to be showing enough interest in his art for Nate's condescension to make her sympathetic, but Paige's particular flavor of passive aggression eventually becomes wearing as well.

That makes Jen Burry's performance kind of impressive, if that's what she and filmmaker Brian Ackley were going for. The same can be said for George Katt; there's nothing about this pair that doesn't ring true, no matter how much one might wish that they didn't remind the viewer of someone. There's something laudable about that sort of authenticity, and that the audience may be gritting their teeth trying to will Paige to just watch Nate's damn tape and either put an end to this particular argument indicates that the people involved are doing something reasonably well. But to what end? There's no narrative being visibly advanced, no payoff, no general insight into these characters' dysfunction, either specifically or generally.

There are also enough things about the filmmaking that are just frustrating, none more so than the way the couple talks about one of Nate's paintings that we never see. It's possible that Ackley doesn't want him actually being good or terrible to influence the audience's opinion of him (if he's too talented, some might see that as justifying his crappy personality, for example), but it's a device that calls far too much attention to itself via bad, static camera angles without any sort of payoff. The tone is so constant and the arguments so repetitive that is eighty minute runtime seems much longer. And the ending feels tone-deaf and infuriating, a "gotcha" that's worse than empty irony.

Sure, that's when it circles back around to the genre elements from the start, but how many people watching it at home will make it that far? It's not exciting enough to keep the attention of a genre audience but also not good enough to be worth an art-house audience's time, and it's much easier to check out of something streamed than to walk out of a movie theater.

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originally posted: 03/12/16 11:26:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2016 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Brian Ackley

Written by
  Brian Ackley

  George Katt
  Jen Burry
  Taylor Negron

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