Modern found footage movies have come a long way since ‘The Blair Witch Project’. ‘Paranormal Activity’, ‘Cloverfield’, ‘Project X’, and ‘Chronicle’ all did some very unique and exciting things with the genre, but now a new film called ‘Unidentified’ from first-time director Jason R. Miller takes another approach to the style to deliver a fun mix of a sci-fi comedy and an alien thriller.
Featuring ‘Hatchet’, ‘The New Guy’, and ‘Better Luck Tomorrow’ star Parry Shen, ‘Parks and Recreation’ and ‘Key and Peele’ frequent flier Colton Dunn, and ‘Mad’ regular Eric Artell, ‘Unidentified’ follows an eccentric YouTuber named Jodie that tags along with his brother-in-law and his friends on their traditional trip to Las Vegas. Along the way, the four friends struggle with gambling problems, hired muscle, and a few geek-out moments from Jodie. However, their biggest problem comes when they find themselves stranded in the middle of the desert and Jodie goes missing in the dead of night. When he pops up again, he seems to have stumbled upon exactly the sort of mysterious, alien-like object that he’d always dreamt about, but things take an unexpected turn when even more weird things keep happening to them.
The first thing that turned me on to this film was the cast. I was definitely a fan of Shen’s work in ‘The New Guy’ and ‘Better Luck Tomorrow’, plus his hilarious indie sex comedy ‘Yes, We’re Open’, but I was more curious to see more of Eddie Mui. I recalled enjoying him in ‘Someone I Used To Know’ at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival and he played more of a comedic role in that movie. On the flip side, he took on a more serious character in ‘Unidentified’, showing that he certainly has some range. I look forward to seeing what comes from him next.
Then once the movie started, I was drawn to the character of Jodie, who did releate to in some ways as a superhero/sci-fi fan (even though I know my way around Sin City a little better than he does). Taking his camera that he uses to film his YouTube show and the home movies for the road trip and using it as our portal into the world of the movies was such a cool thing to do. Sure, taking that point of view is pretty much a staple of the found footage genre, but this might be the first time that I’ve seen it be used like a YouTube video. After watching what ‘Unidentified’ did with that, it was definitely one of those things creative that I wish I had done in my own writing.
As far as the plot goes, besides getting a very ‘Blair Witch’ throwback vibe later on in the film, I also detected hints of ‘Attack the Block’ and ‘Signs’, which are both on two completely different sides of the alien invasion movie spectrum in my book. I might even go so far as to say that I like ‘Unidentified’ better than ‘Signs’, but it also committed the same mistake that M. Night Shyamalan also pulled in his alien flick tat turned me off to it. I was totally enthralled by everything going on in both movies until they showed the alien’s face. I feel like there would have been more suspense if they didn’t show the face, or in the case of ‘Signs’, the whole body. For me, it would have been much freakier if they only showed parts of the face or just the hand so as to keep teasing the audience.
Besides that bit about the alien, the only other problem that I had was that the ending ran a little long. I understand that there was a lot going on in the scene, but it probably didn’t have to go on as long as it did. Otherwise, the whole film was a lot of fun. There isn’t much good sci-fi out there these days with smaller budgets, but ‘Unidentified’ is definitely one of them. It took some of the most fun parts of ‘The Hangover 2’, mixed them with some of the freakiest parts of ‘The Blair Witch Project’, and threw in some ‘Paul’ for good measure. The undertones of the government keeping secrets from us about aliens were a cool thing to follow as well, even into the credits. While I didn’t agree with Jodie’s assessment of Batman against one of his own original creations, I definitely enjoyed taking time out of my day to watch ‘Unidentified’.
‘Unidentified’ starring Parry Shen, Colton Dunn, Eddie Mui, and Eric Artell is available on DVD and Digital Download now from Dark Sky Films.