Unidentified falls into the found footage film category. Its budget is significantly lower than other films that have blazed the same path like Cloverfield or Chronicle. To be clear I have nothing against found footage films; yes the camera shakes and that can be annoying and even headache inducing, but for the most part Unidentified manages as well as the any other film that’s tackled the genre. The main thing that Unidentified does is show that regardless of the budget the film, the quality ends up about the same. Sure there might be more mayhem and destruction in the previous two films I mentioned, but all three films manage to hit the same story beats and generally have the same problems with their narrative. The narrative is uninteresting. We spend the bulk of the movie hanging out and humanizing the characters when we’re all just there for the third act.
The majority of the opening is spent with the character Jodie who is the instigator of the filming for this film. He’s a fan of superheroes and that’s to say that he’s not a comic book fan, but a fan of comic book characters i.e. superheroes. We spend far too long with him as he sets the stage for the camera’s relevance in the story as he opens his own YouTube channel.
We quickly learn that he’s going on a trip to Vegas with his boss, brother in-law and a co-worker. This is after he records two more short videos while his boss hammers on the horn in his drive way. I believe this is there to illustrate that Jodie has no consideration for anyone else’s time and to pretty much burn away all sympathy for his character as he takes a road trip with three people whose feelings for him range from dislike to utter apathy. Jodie is the naïve, annoying character that’s picked on by the people forced to tolerate him because he’s annoying. You’ll want to feel sorry for him at times, but then he’ll do something particularly annoying and you’ll no longer feel sorrow for him. The only time he’s not acting like a hyperactive child is when he has an encounter with an object in the desert, but we’ll get to that.
With a title like Unidentified you’d assume that the film is not only dealing with alien’s, but that it will be spending a great deal of time dealing with those aliens. Unfortunately only the former of the two is true. The first two acts of the film are spent picking up the characters, driving and some really boring Vegas stuff. There’s a scene in an abandoned neighborhood that’s particularly pointless and in several ways breaks the plot of the third act of the movie.
The third act that actually deals with aliens and such is not intense and basically ends up being four men wandering the desert. The three men that were once annoyed with Jodie are now his protectors and the shift is too hard to believe.
The acting isn’t terrible, but at times it feels as if the characters are improving their dialogue and if they’re not then the dialogue needed more work. Part of you while watching the film will think this is just The Hangover with four people and aliens and maybe that was the intention, but it does not succeed. The primary reason being that none of the actors have any chemistry with each other; they instead come across as four strangers that meet and filmed a movie. It’s even more apparent during the cliché angry wife and cliché idiot husband scene which spills out into a scene with awkward fake sister and awkward fake brother. In total, four out of the five characters we spend time with are related by blood or marriage and none of that feels genuine.
The film suffers from pacing problems. As I mentioned in the beginning it’s no better or worse than big-budget films that have done the same genre, but that doesn’t make it any better either. There’s far too much build-up to get to the aliens and really everything that happens up to that point is mundane. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before and the attempts at humor fall short because it’s found footage. By the time you get to the alien stuff it’s sadly too late to hold your interest, but what’s worse is that the film continues down the same uninteresting path it started on.
The other problem with the story is that there’s far too much focus on why the camera is there, why the camera is running and yet everyone looks into the camera every chance they get or worse yet they ignore it as if they were in a real movie. I understood that it was a found footage film from the first scene, but then the film explains why the camera is there not once, but two more times. You could even argue that there’s a third time, but that was more a break in the plot than anything else. Basically Jodie is the camera and though the camera passes hands, he’s still the camera and everyone takes a turn explaining why they’re responsible for him being on the trip.
Again, it’s not a bad film. The quality is actually very good, more than likely due to the leap in camera and editing technology. Its failure as a film is that it doesn’t try to do anything new. Everything here is something you’ve seen or experienced yourself (referring to the Vegas trip not aliens) which makes it dull to watch, but at least it’s viewable.
Writer/Director: Jason R. Miller Studio: Dark Sky Films Run Time: 89 Minutes Rating: Not Rated