Review: Unidentified Objects

Written and directed by Juan Felipe Zuleta, co-written by Leland Frankel, an uptight dwarf and his free-spirited, alien-obsessed neighbour hit the road on a border-defying search for their place in the universe. Starring: Sarah Hay, Matthew Jeffers, Roy Abramsohn, Hamish Allan-Headley, John Ryan Benavides and Roberta Colindrez.

There’s an immediately atmospheric feel to Unidentified Objects, its opening sequence makes a strong impression and has a fantastic grasp on the film’s themes right out of the gate. It sets a compelling and intriguing tone, a lot of which has to do with its use of colour. There’s a lively, curious and vivid aesthetic, and Juan Felipe Zuleta’s direction has a candid feel to the way that it moves. On the other hand, it also veers off frequently into more artistically embellished moments, stepping outside of reality. The two do work with one another but the dreamlike detours don’t always feel necessary and do leave less room for the story to develop.

It’s the film’s key issue as there is a strong story of mental health and self-identity at work but the creative diversions feel like a distraction. It’s a shame as there are genuinely strong, unusual and interesting characters at work. Although those choices do match the extra-terrestrial and stranger themes to the film, so it’s attempting to walk the line between both worlds and ultimately one pulls you in stronger than the other. The simpler, emotional moments between Winona (Sarah Hay) and Peter (Matthew Jeffers) are the strongest element the story has to offer. It builds such a sweet and captivating friendship, the two of them slowly providing each other with the support and keen ear that they need. Their road trip is a lovely journey of acceptance and compassion.

Part of what makes these characters so engaging is how much energy Sarah Hay and Matthew Jeffers bring to the table. They’re an intense duo who are both overflowing with emotion but in extremely different ways. Hay gives us a wholesome optimism mixed with a loose grip on reality, as we typically know it, as well as a mysterious backstory, sadly one we never get to know too well. She gives us Winona as a strong yet vulnerable woman who’s committed and compassionate. Jeffers on the other hand, gives us the stubborn, rude and hard-shelled Peter. Creating his angry persona around the years of being patronised and bullied on top of the grief that weighs heavy on his mind, but once you get past that shell, he has intelligence, wit and a big personality to offer. Together they create the classic unlikely friendship, complete opposites who bring out the best in one another. There’s also a number of different cameos that keep things interesting, it’s particularly great to see A League of their Own’s Roberta Colindrez.

Unidentified Objects is a quirky and touching exploration of mental health and belief in the unknown. The direction is strong throughout, and while its creative detours along the way may distract from the film’s emotions, they are well shot with suavely coloured cinematography. Sarah Hay and Matthew Jeffers do a fantastic job of creating a naturally growing and sweet friendship, delving into a tale of empathy and open-mindedness. Not everything comes together as strongly as it had the potential for and there’s a few loose threads viewers would probably like to pull on, but it’s creative, thoughtful and engaging.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare 2023

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