Since the first alien abduction film, The UFO Incident (1975), about the first documented alien abduction case (Betty and Barney Hill), Hollywood has shown little interest in the abduction side of aliens aside from The X-Files (1993). I chronicled the history of “real” cases of alien abductions documented in films and TV a while back, and the list is short. It’s understandable. “Real” accounts of alien abductions are repetitive—high strangeness, lost time, greys with big eyes, sleep paralysis—and people who claim to have been abducted are generally not the most interesting people around.
Being abducted by aliens would, obviously, be the most horrifying and mind-shattering experience one could have, but it’s an isolated event. It’s easier to make a narrative drama about hauntings or beings that are constantly in the background rather than something that would only be a few scenes in a 90+ minute film. I’m guessing most people only remember that one scene from Fire in the Sky (1993).
I’ve been interested in alien abductions since I can remember, partly because of The X-Files and as an Icelandic person, there is a ring of familiarity to those stories. In fact, when I was doing my minor degree in folklore, I made a decent case that the alien abduction stories are just the Hidden people (Huldufólk) legends revamped for a post-nuclear age.
Anyways, Holes in the Sky: The Sean Miller Story is a mockumentary about a victim of alien abduction. If anyone would come to me and ask if a mockumentary about alien abductions is a good idea, I would say no. Not at all. There are three reasons: 1) There is an endless supply of interviews with abductees so the film would need to have a unique twist. 2) Mockumentaries are one of the hardest genres to pull off. 3) As stated above, people who claim to be abducted usually don’t have a lot going for them.
There is literally just a handful of mockumentaries that work. Almost all of them are directed by Christopher Guest, or at least have him in the leading role. Guest also uses the same handful of actors in all of his films. They are his friends, of course, but they are also incredibly talented improvisers and that is the most important thing for people who act in mockumentaries. Acting doesn’t work for mockumentaries. When we watch documentaries, we expect a more earnest human way of speaking and acting than we see in fiction. Recreating that with a script would need the most talented actors in the world and those actors are not starring in low budget mockumentaries.
This is the same issue found in the parent genre, found footage films. Our mind notices how fake they are. We experience earnest humanity daily, and the fake humanity in these films goes into uncanny valley territory. For every The Blair Witch Project (1999) there are hundreds of found footage films that are just cringy. Mockumentaries combine the fake interviews with the fake found footage. It’s just almost impossible to create.
Hole in the Sky never had a chance. It’s about a man who was abducted and disappeared some years back and features interviews with people who knew him, and some footage found taken before he disappeared. The actors are fine, it’s not their fault this doesn’t work, but there just isn’t anything here. Endless interviews with uninteresting people who really don’t know what happened is boring. There is no hook, no new angle. I kept hoping for something new, something fresh, but it never happens.
Christopher’s Guest’s mockumentaries work because they depict characters that are hilariously banal but somehow still believable, and always interesting. I kept thinking of a scene from Waiting for Guffman (1996) while watching Hole in the Sky. It was one scene, two or three minutes, and it depicted a more interesting alien story than this film ever did. A UFO expert, played by David Cross, explains a mysterious circle found in the town of Blaine. His brief monologue is so absurd but is delivered in such a completely grave way that it’s one of the funniest thing I can think of.
“I’ve been coming to this circle for about five years, and measuring it. The diameter and the circumference are constantly changing, but the radius stays the same. Which brings me to the number 5. There are five letters in the word Blaine. Now, if you mix up the letters in the word Blaine, mix ’em around, eventually, you’ll come up with Nebali. Nebali. The name of a planet in a galaxy way, way, way… way far away. And another thing. Once you go into that circle, the weather never changes. It is always 67 degrees with a 40% chance of rain.”
This is a hook, something special. If you want to make a mockumentary, don’t just try to make something that could be put on the History Channel and nobody would bat an eye.