‘Ariel Phenomenon’ Review: Heartbreaking and Fascinating Look at a Real Alien Encounter

Kevin Taft's review of the fascinating true-life account of a UFO/Alien encounter "Ariel Phenomenon," which is available to rent directly on the film's website.
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In September of 1994, the school children of the Ariel School in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, had an incredible experience. Dozens of children witnessed a disc-shaped spacecraft land on the school property and watched amazed and terrified as two alien figures observed them . The new documentary “Ariel Phenomenon” is their story.

The children were all under the age of twelve and were completely affected by the experience. The incident was one of the most famous and clear indications of alien contact ever recorded. The reason? The children reported similar stories about what they witnessed, with slight variations that made the event all the more believable.

At first, the kids came running to the teachers who were in the middle of a staff meeting. While they didn’t believe the children at first, a common experience was revealed once they spoke with them separately.

When psychiatrist Dr. John Mack was contacted to investigate, it began a lifelong look into the phenomenon of alien abductions. This ultimately lead to his becoming an outcast in his field. BBC war reporter Tim Leach also took an interest, leading to skepticism around his mental health for even contemplating the authenticity of what happened.

Director Randall Nickerson uses footage and interviews from 1994, as well as recent interviews of the school children still affected by the event today. In addition, he uses old interviews with the now-deceased Leach and Mack to tell the whole story of the Ariel incident.

Emily Trim is followed the most. She was witness to the event along with her two siblings, but since their parents were staunch Christians, the incident didn’t sit well with their beliefs. Her brother was incredibly traumatized, and their parents refused to talk about what happened. The family eventually moved to Toronto where Emily still has trouble dealing with what she saw. After a failed marriage, she lives back with her parents while using her skills as an artist to depict the experience and her feelings about it on canvas. In the film, Emily is eventually brought back to the Ariel school to get some closure and begin the process of healing.

Many of the children – now adults – speak of the inability to talk about what they saw to others. They fear being ridiculed or not believed, so they keep what they experienced inside. But far from it simply being a frightening thing to witness, many felt changed by it.

Quite a few of the children state that by looking into the large, black eyes of the creatures that stood staring at them, they felt as if they were being communicated with, mainly about the damage we are doing to the earth. They weren’t offering explanations or solutions to fix the problem, just an acknowledgment that it was happening. More than one child stated this fact making it all the more believable that these children really did encounter an alien presence.

But how do you move on when you’ve experienced something so life-changing and perspective-altering that it is impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t had the same experience? That is the challenge many of these now-adults face; it is both heartbreaking and profound.

What Nickerson does is shows us the undeniable truth of what these children experienced and asks us to question our beliefs in the future. If this is indisputable proof of the existence of beings outside our planet, what does that say about our place in the universe? And can you imagine having that knowledge, but not being able to do anything with it?

Moments of Nickerson’s hour and forty-minute film feel repetitive, and a few things are left off the table, such as whatever happened to Emily Trim’s devastated brother. But the footage of the children both then and now, and interviews with Dr. Mack and Tim Leach, all prove equally fascinating.

It all comes down to believing or not believing. And if the belief is real, where does that leave humanity as a whole? Will we ever find out answers as to what the beings were and what they came here for? Or will we have to live in the not-knowing?

Whatever the case, the story behind the Ariel incident is one of the most compelling UFO sightings in history, and Nickerson has done an excellent job of humanizing it and making us ask the bigger questions.

Ariel Phenomenon is available to rent HERE.

Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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