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[Fantastic Fest ’22] ‘Unidentified Objects’ review: Out of this world road trip movie remains grounded

A realistic tale about aliens and people.

Unidentified Objects takes all the familiar trappings of the road trip movie and places a unique premise around it. Peter (Matthew August Jeffers) is a gay dwarf who is content being alone in his apartment. His neighbor Winona (Sarah Hay) is an internet sex worker in need of assistance. She wants to rendezvous with the aliens who abducted her years earlier, and Peter finds himself along for the ride.

The story may sound out of this world, but it is grounded in reality. The film takes place during the pandemic (it is not a COVID movie even though it does touch on some lockdown themes) and its two leads deal with real world issues. Unidentified Objects is more relatable than most films dealing with UFO encounters. It is about people coming to terms with themselves.

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Elements of a road trip adventure such as wacky encounters are found here. Naturally, Peter and Winona go through character arcs that see them have trouble getting along before becoming closer. Filmmaker Juan Felipe Zuleta focuses more on characters than genre trappings, but the framework is recognizable. This familiarity brings an added level of comfort to a plot that takes a few detours.

Winona is an important part of Unidentified Objects. She is the driving force behind the story and spends time reflecting on her life, but this is definitely Peter’s story. The world is mainly seen through his perspective and he is the one who has changed most by the end. As the journey progresses, the audience learns more about Winona, but the most personal moments are with Peter.

Part of the authenticity of the movie is how it does not go out of its way to make its characters likable. Nowhere is this more clear than with Peter. He is bitter, angry, and pretentious. He can be a very difficult character to spend a car ride with. It is those qualities that also make him so well rounded. Unidentified Objects does not try to smooth out the rough edges and is unafraid  to highlight the less savory side of its main characters.

[Fantastic Fest '22] 'Unidentified Objects' review: Out of this world road trip movie remains grounded

Credit must go to Jeffers for going all in on the part. He brings a realistic quality to Peter that makes the experience much more engaging to those watching. Unidentified Objects is not about a gruff character who suddenly has an epiphany and only sees the good in life. It is about an unhappy person who is almost reluctantly working on themselves in a frustrating and confusing world. It is a difficult concept, but Jeffers nails it perfectly.

As with any road trip movie, it is the characters that will decide how much a person enjoys Zuleta’s film. The performances are great, but the genuine take may turn some off. This is not a story concerned with tying a pretty bow around everything. Those who are willing to go on a wild adventure that is incredibly human should enjoy Unidentified Objects.

Unidentified Objects makes its Texas premiere at Fantastic Fest

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