Sunday, August 3, 2014

Horror Film Review

Unidentified (2013):  Found-footage fare about evil aliens, high stakes poker, and the Down Syndrome mafia.  Sound interesting?  Sound quirky?  Sound like something that may hold your attention for 90 minutes?  Oh, only if it were so.  Try to follow this...

Uber nerd Jodie (Eric Artell) tags along with brother-in-law Nick (Eddie Mui) on his trip to Vegas.  Joining them are Nick's friends Jeremy (Parry Shen) and Dave (Colton Dun).  Much to the great annoyance of the other three, Jodie decides to record their odyssey.  We first think it's for his YouTube channel but later learn it was at the behest of Nick's wife Janelle (Beth Alspaugh).  Why?  Because Nick has a gambling problem.  So why would Janelle let him go and why would his "friends" take him to the gambling capital of the universe?  The only answer I came up with was that it's in the script. 

Anyway, Dave set up a poker game for Nick that's just a tiny bit off the Strip.  They borrow a few grand from a loan shark for Nick's stake.  Why do something so stupid?  Easy...Dave says that Nick's sure to win.  Why?  Because the poker game is exclusively for folks with Down Syndrome.  Dave, not the pointiest arrow in the quiver, assumed these people were less intelligent.  Needless to say, Dave was catastrophically mistaken.  Owing money they don't have, they try to quietly check out of their hotel but are set upon by the loan shark and chased out of town.  With Jeremy driving, they eschew main roads and wind up in the desert.  A freak lightning storm strikes.  A bolt zaps the car, frying the battery.  While waiting for dawn, Jodie wanders off.  They find him, zombie-like, staring at the horizon.  He has a giant cyst on his back filled with black goo.  Of course they just have to drain it.  Gross.  They get lost, night descends, and soon the four increasingly hysterical friends realize they're not alone in the dark.  Then there's running and hiding and the inevitable encounter with bug-eyed aliens who are not very nice, not very nice at all. 

The guys don't get lost in the desert until the film is nearly two-thirds over.  So a slow start, then.  There is such a wealth of logic-defying decisions made by these characters that this review would end up novel-length if I attempted to discuss them all.  It's the same with any horror film wherein a group of friends travel together to a remote location, I suppose.  At least they didn't end up at a cabin in the woods.  Beyond questionable character decisions, the filmmakers themselves made choices that at the time must have seemed clever.  Case in point:  At the end, the alien craft blasts off and the camera (along with a most unfortunate Nick) get sucked up into its wake.  How far, you ask?  A few hundred feet?  A few thousand?  Nope.  To the edge of space.  Many footage minutes of an uncontrolled descent follow.  Then, through a cracked lens, we see a bearded gent pick up what is obviously an indestructible camera.  I'm sorry, you drop anything from a couple hundred thousand feet and you're going to end up with something extremely flat and extremely dead. 

The Skinny

Acting:  Not as awful as I feared, if I'm honest.  Artell as Jodie is goofy and likable.  Shen as Jeremy is quite funny when sharing his constipation woes. 
Story:  They could have created a more plausible explanation for a midnight desert excursion.  And while Area 51 isn't mentioned, aliens in the Nevada desert isn't exactly shocking.
Direction:  Single camera perspective shoots can be notoriously difficult as you are allowed to show only a narrow window of action which can consequently wreck havoc on the narrative thread.  Despite the rest of the film's many flaws, they succeeded in this one aspect.
Production Values:  Well, they did film in Vegas and they did film in the desert so there's no problem with realism.  Lighting and sound quality were suspiciously good.
Gore/FX:  Not any blood per se, rather there's black goo.  Oh, and we see what happens when a human body reaches the edge of earth's atmosphere.  Ouch.  The CGI doesn't suck
Scares:  There are.  I know...could've knocked me over with a feather.
Ending:  Oh, the usual.  No closure, left hanging, most everyone dead. 
Verdict:  Should you see Unidentified?  I can't recommend it.  It left me bored and bemused, baffled and befuddled, bitter and... You get the idea.

Rating:  2 out of 5


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