Unidentified Objects - Fantastic Fest Texas State Premiere Review
Director: Juan Felipe Zuleta
Starring: Sarah Hay, Matthew Jeffers, Roy Abrahmson, Kerry Flanagan
Written by: Leland Frankel, Juan Felipe Zuleta
Produced by: Leland Frankel, Juan Sebastien Jaimes, Matthew Jeffers, Masha Leonov, Ramfis Myrthil, Adam Piotrowicz
Cinematography by: Camilo Monsalve
Original Score by: Sebastien Zuleta
An uptight dwarf and his free-spirited, alien-obsessed neighbor hit the road on a border-defying search for their place in the universe.
If you're reading the premise and thinking that this is just gonna be another silly, indie road trip movie then you're wrong. I mean there are lots of silly moments and it does involve a road trip over the US/Canada border, but 'Unidentified Objects' has so much more going for it than expected. It has a huge heart and it really took me by surprise how genuinely touching it was.
The film follows Winona (Sarah Hay) who years ago was visited by extraterrestrial beings and was promised to be abducted at a certain time and place. Well that time is almost here and she needs help to get to that place, which just happens to be in Canada. Only she doesn't have a car so she pleads to her neighbour Peter (Matthew Jeffers) to take her. After much hesitation, Peter gives in to Winona's begging and the duo set off to the abduction point. Much like the majority of road trip films, the pair's adventures are littered with peculiar meetings and interactions along the way and their trip gets off to a bizarre start when Winona essentially steals a car from Peter's friend.
Although the premise is about Winona's journey, the real protagonist of the film is Peter and it's actually his journey that will take centre stage. Peter is a homosexual who also has dwarfism and it's evident early on that he clearly struggles on a day to day basis trying to find his place in the world. We also find out quite early that not only is he fighting his own inner demons based on his sexuality, his looks and his social capabilities but he also blames himself in part for the death of his friend. He is in constant pain, both physically and mentally, and he lives his life under a storm cloud of unhappiness. Peter is an extraordinary character played impeccably by Matthew Jeffers. He really does possess the ability to play the part with equal measures of comedic and empathetic value. This is Jeffers' debut feature film, having come from a theatre background in New York, which makes his intimate and heartbreaking portrayal even more staggering.
Guilt plays a huge part in how Peter leads his life. He feels guilty for not being there for his friend when they called him late one night wanting to chat and he is always feeling guilty about simply existing. All he wants to do is stay at home, away from everybody but his coming together with Winona, a sex worker with her own regrets, challenges him to truly accept himself for who he is. Jeffers' performance kind of shook me a little because his character isn't a terribly nice person yet there is a point in the film that filled me with incredible sympathy for Peter. The idea that no particular corner of society will have you as their own is deeply relatable and Jeffers really hits a home run delivering that message. Peter is super bitter. Deathly angry. He has way too much hatred building up inside him and his relationship with Winona during her journey allows him to let that hatred simmer but also gives him the required opportunity to address it too. I should also preface that his anger also provides a platform for much of the humour in the film and Jeffers delivers some quality banger lines.
There are some absolutely gorgeous scenes in the film but director Juan Felipe Zuleta tries hard to keep everything grounded in realism and doesn't let the promise of aliens drown out the human story that he is trying to tell here, one that takes influence from his own experiences adapting to a new country in a divided world.
- Gavin Logan
'Unidentified Objects' received its Texas State Premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 23rd