Horror4MeTelevision & Film

Recap: PARANORMAL WITNESS has a Close Encounter of the CGI Kind


Paranormal Witness - Season 5
Season 5, Episode 12: The Mojave Encounter
Directed by Mark Lewis

All photos courtesy Syfy unless otherwise noted.

Are you ready for this?

Like…are you guys really ready for this?

Because boy, do we have some stuff for you today. And by stuff, I mean things like hypnosis therapy, creepy flashing lights, absolutely godawful CGI aliens… Basically everything you know and love from The X-Files, just without the sexual tension.

Fox Mulder and Dana Scully stand next to each other, The world explodes from the sexual tension. [Courtesy Ed Araquel/FOX.]
Mmmm…that steamy, steamy tension. [Courtesy Ed Araquel/FOX.]

We begin our adventure in North Carolina, 1989. Normal-looking couple Steve and Dawn Hess have come to the Mountain Center of Psychiatry to meet with Dr. William Anixter, a psychiatrist who hypnotizes people in order to help them recover traumatic memories their brains don’t want to think about. Why have the Hess’ come to Anixter? Well, funny you should ask…

We leave Anixter’s office and get to know Steve and Dawn. The two met in college, fell in love, got married, had two kids, blah, blah, blah. So far, so normal.

Then one day, Steve gets the brilliant idea to borrow his in-laws’ camper and take Dawn out for a romantic weekend in the Mojave desert. Delighted with this plan, Dawn throws her adorable spawn at her parents and off we go.

The Hess' leave for their weekend away. Dawn says, "Mommy loves you, honey, but she needs 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep."
“Mommy loves you, honey, but she needs 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep.”

Sadly, the campground the Hess’ usually use is completely full. “Maybe call ahead before schlepping me out into the desert next time, Steve,” Dawn does not say. But I say it. And that’s really what matters here.

Undaunted by this turn of events, Steve decides that instead of driving to a motel like a normal person, he’s going to take the camper off-road into the first unoccupied canyon that tickles his fancy.

Dawn is somewhat nervous about this. Which is understandable, since her husband is driving a several-ton RV aimlessly into the desert. I mean, I don’t personally own a camper but I get the impression that they aren’t terribly well equipped to be driving through like…straight desert? And also they usually need water and electric hook-ups? Which the desert does not come equipped with? But whatever, Steve, you seem like you’re confident about this so let’s just keep on going and assume that this won’t turn into a horrible disaster.

After finding what I assume is the most attractive/least awful patch of sand they can, the Hess’ settle in for some dinner and stargazing. The night is clear, the stars are bright, and the desert is…desert-y, I guess.

But suddenly a few stars separate from the others. Steve and Dawn watch in fascinated horror as these stars move around in a decidedly un-star-like fashion. The normal desert sounds fade away as the lights bob and dip around like a disco ball at a children’s roller rink birthday party.

“What is that?” Dawn asks.

“Probably a weather balloon,” Steve responds. Really, Steve? A weather balloon? Way to be creative, Mr. FBI Shill.

The stars then turn into hundreds of tiny lights that shoot down to the earth. Is it the Russians, the Hess’ wonder? Is it the US military? Is it a stupid weather balloon?

Nope. None of the above. It is, in fact, incredibly cheesy CGI aliens.

As these gangly blobs of pixels prance awkwardly across the sand, the terrified Hess’ take shelter in their RV.

Steve grabs his rifle (which I’m sure will be an excellent defense against creatures who can traverse the galaxy). The couple listen to the sound of dozens of creatures banging on and around the vehicle. Steve describes them as “nimpish” and “impish” while Dawn can summon up no better description than “alien-like”.

Yeah, Dawn, yeah I should say so. (An alien looks into the window of the Hess RV. It is indeed alien-looking.)
Yeah. Yeah, I should so.

Steve reconsiders his gun-based plan and decides on a diplomatic approach. He stretches his hand towards the window but is thrown back by a zap of red laser-bolt smacking into his hand.

A loud drilling sound shakes the ground as a mist rolls into the vehicle. The Hess’ fall unconscious as we see a badly-CGI’d spaceship suck the camper off the ground.

The Hess’ wake up on the floor of the RV, unsure of the day or time. According to their radio, everything is normal. But the twin puncture marks on Dawn’s neck serve as proof of their strange encounter the night before.

In what is the first sane decision the Hess’ have made so far, they decide to drive home immediately. On the way out of the canyon, they stop by another campsite and ask an older couple if they saw anything strange the night before. The old couple says they didn’t. The old couple are clearly aliens in disguise, meant to throw us off the aliens’ trail.

Ya can't get anything past me, aliens!
Ya can’t get anything past me, aliens!

Upon getting home, the Hess’ decide that the best course of action is to act normal and viciously repress any feelings of unease or concern. Because that plan has never backfired on anyone, ever, at any time.

A few days later, the family is all tucked into bed. Suddenly, little Steve Jr.’s toys start going off on their own, in the way that children’s toys do when they want you to be terrified of everything.

Steve Jr. wakes up and wanders towards the front door, where a creepy red light pulses slowly through the glass. Dawn wakes up and rushes down to get him.

“Don’t let those guys get me,” Steve Jr. begs her.

“What guys?” Dawn asks.

“Those guys that did such a terrible job animating the aliens,” Steve Jr. responds. Probably.

Steve Jr. Wanders towards the front door. Maybe teach your children to be less creepy, Steve and Dawn.
Maybe teach your children to be less creepy, Steve and Dawn.

Steve and Dawn are now properly freaked out. As they should be. Children say some pretty creepy stuff. Steve is so freaked out that he brings up the subject with his pal, Paul. Paul puts the Hess’ in contact with Investigator Ron Felder, who connects them with someone who can help. Namely, Dr. Anixter.

And that’s how we arrive back at Anixter’s North Carolina office, where the Hess’ are preparing to undergo regression hypnosis therapy. Ron the Investigator is also there, as is a giant camcorder and a cameraman. The Hess’ will be interviewed individually, with Dawn going first.

At this point, the episode cuts between the actual footage of Anixter’s hypnosis sessions, the Paranormal Witness recreation of the hypnosis, and recreations of the Hess’ memories.

Dawn Hess' original footage played next to the reenactment. Worst <em>America's Funniest Home Videos</em> episode ever.
Worst America’s Funniest Home Videos episode ever.

Through hypnosis, Dawn remembers the trailer being surrounded with lights and sucked up into the sky. Steve and Dawn lay paralyzed on examination tables. They see bright lights and strange creatures standing around them. These strange creatures look suspiciously like E.T., if E.T. was a high school goth kid.

Hypnotized Steve struggles and groans. Ron says that he appears to be undergoing some kind of mental torture as he fights to get to Dawn. Dawn, meanwhile, is now on some sort of operating table. Goth E.T. pushes a probe into her neck as Hypnotized Dawn cries that she wants to go home. Finally, Goth E.T. shoots a red laser into Dawn’s stomach just before Hypnotized Dawn wakes up.

Post-hypnosis, the Hess’ discuss their recovered memories with Dr. Anixter, who firmly believes that the couple has been abducted by aliens. Dawn then reveals that she’s pregnant and that she and Steve are worried that “this wouldn’t be just our baby” and that the aliens “would have some kind of a hand in it.”

AKA the Hess’ are worried that Dawn is carrying an alien baby.

And I get it. An alien baby would be pretty weird. Like, what do you feed an alien baby? Milk? Brains? Burritos?

Probably burritos. [[em]Courtesy Wikimedia Commons[/em]]
Probably burritos. [Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]
But I don’t think Dawn and Steve are considering the potential upsides to an alien baby. It’s probably going to have telekinetic powers (see: Scully’s alien baby), which is useful for getting things off high shelves. It’s probably also going to be super smart and thus able to do their taxes for them. And obviously, when our alien overlords eventually take over the planet, the Hess’ will be given preferential treatment. Win-win all round.

Buuuut then the baby is born and it’s a totally normal, boring baby. It like…cries and poops and doesn’t do the taxes. Dawn says she was relieved to see her daughter’s “tiny human [re: not alien] eyes”, which is probably the highest compliment a new mother can pay to her child.

The episode ends with the Hess’ leaving the nursery. A creepy red light shines through the window, hinting that the baby will soon be abducted. Or that their neighbors really need to stop having raves on weeknights.

To be honest, this was kind of a ho-hum episode. There wasn’t much suspense or excitement. The alien abduction story is one most people are familiar with at this point and this particular tale hits all the usual points without veering very far from the trail. Personally, I have my doubts about regression hypnosis therapy and how easy it is for the hypnotist to, be it either accidentally or purposefully, ask leading questions that then create false memories rather than recover lost ones.

The Hess’ certainly believe these things happened to them and they state in a later interview with Syfy that they still suffer symptoms of PTSD. I’m not going to delve any further into the truth of their claims other than to remind you, dear readers, that it might not be the best idea to drive an RV into the middle of a deserted canyon for the weekend.

An alien looks into the window of the Hess RV, saying, "Scuse, but could we maybe get some of that BBQ?"
“‘Scuse, but could we maybe get some of that BBQ?”

I also can’t leave without pointing out, yet again, the absolute absurdity of the aliens in this episode. The CGI was horrifically wonderful and definitely the highlight of the show. 10/10 would watch and laugh at again.

Paranormal Witness is currently on hiatus. Syfy has yet to announce season six. But they will. If they know what’s good for them…

Meanwhile, check out extra interviews and content at the official PW website! And check out our other Paranormal Witness coverage here or the rest of our Syfy coverage here.


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