After the UFO fevers of the 20th century, mass fascination with the possibility of extraterrestrial visitors is once again having a moment. There are the high-level admissions that very serious people have seen flying things they can’t quite explain. And there’s the fact that, the further we peer into space, the clearer it becomes that Earth-like planets aren’t so rare. Still, tales of alien encounters and abductions, however mysterious, continue to be viewed as dubious by most scientists, and the pseudoscientific methods purported to unearth memories of them equally so. But even if such tales are best approached with a healthy dose of scepticism, they remain compelling as fragments of culture, mythos and human psychology.
Released in 1995, the short documentary Abductees by the UK animator Paul Vester takes a dive into the minds of several people who say they have come face to face with intelligent extraterrestrial life. Narrating their stories from interviews and ‘hypnotic regression’ sessions, the voices describe their purported encounters in rich, dramatic detail. While their narratives share common threads – uncanny beings with large, black eyes; a loss of control; an acute sense of fear; memory fog; bodily probes – they also diverge in fascinating ways, including in the descriptions of the creatures, the apparent purpose of the interstellar visits, and the impact they seem to have had on their narrators.
For his visual treatment, Vester melds black-and-white interview footage with colourful animations built from descriptions and sketches from interviewees, brought to vivid life by professional animators. The resulting, eclectic imagery – with its ‘outsider art’ sensibility, VHS-era aesthetics and paranormal themes – makes for a rich 1990s time capsule. Pairing the images with wobbly theremin tones and ethereal synthesiser sounds, Vester toys with some well-tread tropes of the genre. But despite his whole creative team’s often playful approach, there’s never a sense that Abductees is meant to mock or make light of experiences that, for many of the interviewees, seem to carry real trauma. Instead, Vester channels their stories, and UFO culture more broadly, into a wildly original work that, at times, feels strangely beautiful.
Perhaps the truth is indeed out there, but Abductees won’t bring you any closer to it – and nor does it set out to. It spends no time investigating, and very little time even considering, the veracity of the extraordinary claims that unfold throughout. Ultimately, through its tales of otherworldly encounters, it’s a film about people right here on Earth, sharing experiences that seem to span the conscious, subconscious and cultural.
Written by Adam D’Arpino
Director: Paul Vester
Producer: Irene Kotlarz