With Skyman, Daniel Myrick, writer and co-director of The Blair Witch Project, has returned to the genre he helped popularize: the faux documentary created with supposed found footage. This time around, an alien abduction is his concern, and for a while it’s 1999 all over again as you forget you’re watching a fabrication. Most of the credit for this suspension of disbelief goes to the film’s star, Michael Selle, who plays Carl Merriweather, a lifetime resident of California’s Apple Valley and son of an Army helicopter pilot. Carl had an encounter with a UFO when he was ten-years-old and believes that the alien he met will return for him on his fortieth birthday. As that milestone approaches, Carl prepares for an unusual celebration in the high desert.

Selle plays Carl flawlessly as a man of talent and intelligence whose life was sabotaged by his close encounter, yet he is aware of the circumstances of his life that would lead others to question his sanity. Because of his military experience in Vietnam Carl’s father was a doomsday prepper and built a shabby compound for his family in the dunes adjacent to an Air Force base. Carl, his older brother Kevin and their sister Gina (Nicolette Sweeney) spent a great deal of their childhoods playing and living in the converted shipping containers meant to guarantee their survival when American society collapses. Carl’s mother Denise (Patricia Lentz) tried to make it feel homey but there is only so much one can do with a large metal rectangle.

Carl’s father is dead, Denise is in a home and Kevin has left his family far behind. Gina is Carl’s only remaining connection and they live together in the house they grew up in as she tries to rebuild her life after the end of a toxic marriage. The interviewers use her to tell the opposing reality to the one Carl represents in terms of the troubles with his father and his mother’s efforts to move past what she sees as a delusion. Gina has essentially become Carl’s caretaker, a role she finds taxing when her brother begins preparations for his next rendezvous with the otherworldly.

In a strange way, this film has become an inadvertent commentary on our penchant to record everything on video and for performative acts of insanity. Apart from the truly gruesome clips that circulate online, we are treated to fresh videos every day of American citizens losing their minds in grocery stores because they are asked to wear facemasks. Every one of these people would consider themselves reasonable even while screaming at hourly employees about rights and freedoms. As a work of fiction, Carl exhibits no hostility whatsoever. His docility is one of the aspects that draws you to the character and garners our sympathies as his audience. You keep waiting for an explosion, but Carl never provides it. He is a fairly ordinary man who had been touched by the extraordinary and isn’t afraid to talk about it. But he never gets threatening or wild-eyed like the truth tellers on smartphone videos. He may not be well but he will never be crazy enough to become Twitter famous.

In fact, the normalization of fringe figures through online videos provides Myrick with his hook. UFOs are constant part of our collective imagination and people like Carl have created a subculture around alien sightings and abductions that rivals any in pop culture. You can imagine him sitting up at night listening to Art Bell’s old radio show while trying to start a blog about his encounter. Carl seems so plausible that when he meets snarky YouTubers at a convention for the UFO community you feel protective of him. He may be a weirdo, but he’s ours, Gumpian and loveable.

Ultimately, the film falls into familiar patterns established in Myrick’s most famous work. Carl drags Gina, his friend Marcus (Faleolo Alailima) and the film crew to the compound to see if the aliens will return for his birthday. The place is rigged with motion detectors and wireless cameras to capture any possible sightings. Tensions mount as easily dismissed and unexplainable phenomena occur in the dark outside the container. It doesn’t take long to know where this is going, which is disappointing because half the film is really interesting. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of Selle after this move is lost to the streams.

The writer and co-director of The Blair Witch Project, has returned to the genre he helped popularize: the faux documentary created with supposed found footage.
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