Unidentified Objects Review: A Completely Unapologetic Film About Belonging

Juan Felipe Zuleta's Unidentified Objects explores the concept of representation and belonging in an unconventional way.
Unidentified Objects Matthew Jeffers Sarah Hay

The first thing one notices about Juan Felipe Zuleta’s road trip film Unidentified Objects is its out-of-this-world score. Not because it’s especially memorable or even catchy, but because it feels like it is from a distant galaxy yet it is able to pull us right into the atmosphere of the film from the very beginning.

Sebastián Zuleta’s music is a driving force through the entire 90-minute runtime and, combined with DP Camilo Monsalve’s claustrophobic close-ups, is able to inspire a sense of uneasiness that one of our main characters, Matthew Jeffers’ Peter, can very much relate to. But it also brings an odd sense of comfort and determination, which Monsalve is also able to pull off by using medium shots on Sarah Hay’s Winona.

The Story and Characters of Unidentified Objects

Unidentified Objects Matthew Jeffers

The story focuses on Peter and Winona’s border-crossing journey into Canada after the latter convinces the former to lend her his car — except it isn’t his car, but rather one that belonged to someone he had a deep affection for. Their tragic backstory is somewhat left to interpretation after dropping a few hints at what happened but acts as a fundamental part of who Peter is today. And who is he?

A college-educated, homosexual person of short stature that is broke and unable to find a job, and who is also generally uncomfortable around other people. Being left alone to mourn his own existence would be the closest thing to happiness he can think of.

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One day, his neighbor Winona knocks on his door asking to borrow his car for a pretty penny, which Peter begrudgingly accepts if he can take him with her, among other conditions. The actual reason for the trip is initially hidden from Peter, but Winona eventually is forced to spill the beans — she is looking for an alien abduction site up in Canada. Her character profile is left a bit more ambiguous.

As usual with these stories, their personalities have both a lot in common and also couldn’t be more different in other aspects, which eventually causes some fallout between the two but also some understanding. Both visceral reactions are usually caused by their encounters with other people as opposed to disagreements that come up naturally in conversation.

Perhaps one of the big problems of Unidentified Objects is its lack of characterization of Winona. We know that she makes a living as a sex worker, but details about her past are sparse, as is a real understanding of the character by the end of the film. That being said, wherever Leland Frankel’s script feels short-handed, actors Sarah Hay and Matthew Jeffers step up and deliver two outstanding performances that if this film received the right distributor and awards campaign could be a serious contender for an Oscar nomination, particularly in the latter’s case.

The themes of Unidentified Objects

Unidentified Objects Matthew Jeffers

Unidentified Objects is no conventional film, nor is it trying to be. That is precisely the point, though — where else can you get a little person and a prostitute driving a pink truck to find an alien abduction point? At its very core, the film is about belonging. Winona, an outcast from society, is looking for a place she can be accepted in; Peter isn’t initially looking for that but eventually finds it in Winona’s company (not really a surprise there).

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Unidentified Objects’ reliability lies in how we view these characters. In a sense, everyone is looking for their place in the world, somewhere to belong or someone to find solace in. But these characters’ specific circumstances may not feel as familiar to many viewers, which is where a disconnect may be drawn. And yet, that is exactly one of the film’s themes, to fight the establishment and stereotypes of what an average man and woman are supposed to be.

The world is richer than that, and it’s made up of people with different backgrounds and different life stories. Unidentified Objects references that in its very title, and talks about representation in a way that is very much needed today — Taika Waititi even brought up this issue at a recent The Hollywood Reporter luncheon.

Unidentified Objects Matthew Jeffers

After a rough start with the use of an unnecessary in-media res opener and later an awkwardly-written scene where they hijack the car that they drive in, Unidentified Objects never really stops or looks back. There are a few minor gripes I have, namely how even at 90 minutes it feels like it doesn’t contain as much story as it claims to, but even then it’s a far cry from other 150-minute movies that debut in theaters that would have been somewhat watchable at half their length.

RATING: 7/10

The film is currently playing in limited release in the US. Have you seen it already? What were your thoughts on Unidentified Objects? Do you agree with our assessment or do you have a completely different opinion about it? Let us know on our social media!

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