Bolstered by the presence of fine actors in the leading roles, The UFO Incident is a peculiar take on a real historical incident. In the early 1960s, New Hampshire residents Barney and Betsy Hill claimed they’d been abducted by aliens, taken aboard a flying saucer for medical examinations, and brainwashed to forget what happened. Memories of the event haunted the couple’s dreams, so they submitted to hypnosis and provided details while a psychiatrist probed their unconscious minds. Reports of the Hills’ alleged abduction earned widespread attention, but because the Hills were unable to provide evidence, some people dismissed the story as a delusion or a hoax while others believed the incident really occurred. This made-for-TV movie tries to service the believers and the doubters simultaneously, and the wishy-washy approach doesn’t quite work.
Scenes of the Hills experiencing traumatic flashbacks and/or providing testimony are played straight, whereas scenes with re-creations of alien contact have the eerie quality of a horror movie. It’s understandable why the producers included money shots of actors dressed like weird-looking aliens, because a purely journalistic presentation of this material would have been talky and underwhelming. Still, The UFO Incident is basically two very different movies squeezed into one package, with the grounded stuff coming across better than the fanciful vignettes.
James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons play the Hills, a middle-class interracial couple. They bicker and bond like normal married people, and the filmmakers take pains to present the Hills as rational and thoughtful individuals, the better to lend credence to their reports of an extraordinary experience. Barnard Hughes plays the doctor who questions them under hypnosis. The overarching story of takes place in the “present,” with the Hills acceding to hypnosis only because their collective memories are so disturbingly synchronized—they dream the same impossible dreams. Dramatizations of the UFO event appear in suspenseful flashbacks.
Executive producer/director Richard A. Colla and his collaborators drill down fairly deep into the Hills’ personalities, especially considering the film’s brief running time, so we learn about Barney’s fear of losing control and Betty’s fear of the unknown. Parsons shines in conversational scenes, conveying a woman of compassion and moral strength, while Jones excels in hypnosis scenes, sometimes breaking down from the strain of recalling otherworldly violation. The FX scenes are the least effective, not only because the actors and filmmakers seem less invested in those sequences but also because the alien costumes and spaceship look cheap. Perhaps The UFO Incident is best described as respectful, since the filmmakers avoid many opportunities to sensationalize the material; at its best, the picture is a matter-of-fact recitation enlivened by humane performances.
The UFO Incident: FUNKY