IN SELECTED CINEMAS: 14th December
OUT ON DVD, BLU RAY, DOWNLOAD AND ON-DEMAND: 24th December
RUNNING TIME: 97 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Night-time, and panic is everywhere. The military are rushing around and a woman flees from a house and looks up at something. Several weeks before, four friends; couple Robin and Dana, Michael, and Vincent are partying in a nightclub. A fight breaks out but Michael still manages to pick up Carrie while Robin proposes to Dana. The following morning, it seems like all power has been cut across the country while a strange man warns of the apocalypse. The next night, they are awoken by an earthquake, all clocks have stopped and a huge spaceship the size of a city appears out of the sky…..
The writer/director of U.F.O. describes his movie as “Independence Day meets Monsters, told from the point of view of Signs”, which sounds like two thirds of an enticing prospect, and actually U.F.O. certainly isn’t the bore-fest that was Gareth Edwards’s film. I found it a strange film to watch, partly because throughout it mixes good ideas and creative decisions with bad ones. Alien invasion pictures have become very frequent of late, and not many of them have actually turned out to be much good. I wondered for a while if the only way you could make a decent alien invasion film is, unless you go down the route many movies did in the 1950’s and have the invaders take on human form, to have a huge Avengers-style budget. U.F.O. though really does make the most of not having much money, and even if there’s a lot in this British film that doesn’t work, it grips for the most part and is certainly more bearable than films like The Darkest Hour and Battlefield Earth: Los Angeles.
It opens with almost psychedelic images of flashlights filling a black screen, until we realise they belong to soldiers engaged in some conflict. We see a woman flee from a house and the camera assume the vantage point of something looking down upon her. Weird dots encircle her, then we cut to a spinning record of a DJ in a nightclub. It’s an arresting opening that really gets the film off to a strong start, though it’s none too clear that what follows is a flashback. In fact, throughout the film we see brief flash-forwards and flashbacks, and it gets a little annoying and pointless. We are even given brief shots of Jean-Claude Van Damme, who doesn’t come properly into the film until two thirds of the way through, and it’s not clear who he nor what his role is in these tiny scenes except to show the film’s biggest ‘name’ as much as possible. When Van Damme, who has had something of a career resurgence of late, does come into the film properly, it’s still, after all these years, hard to understand what he is saying, but he does, surprisingly, get a fight scene, and it’s always good to see a major star supporting an indie project, isn’t it?
The main focus is on our five young protagonists, and we are introduced to them in a nightclub. Robin gets his girlfriend Dana on top of a car and gives the impression he wants to have sex with her but actually proposes. Michael chats up Carrie with some of the sleaziest, corniest lines possible, but still manages to’ pull’ her, something which I found hard to believe considering how stunning actress Bianca Bree [Van Damme’s daughter] is, but then the guy is played by Pierce Brosnan’s son and actually has some of his charm, and certainly sounds like him, so some female viewers may disagree. The fifth main character, Vincent, gets into a fight which gets them all thrown out. The fight is filmed with the dreaded ‘Shakycam’ style which I can only excuse in Found Footage films, otherwise I think it’s an abomination. Worse is to come though, when a sex scene is filmed in this way. Yes, Shakycam Sex is here, and by God I just felt like hanging myself there and then, though it was only a matter of time I suppose. Still, the film is pretty poor at the moment, not helped by some seriously bad dialogue such as:
Carrie: you had me at beautiful
Michael:but lost you at wank bank?
Ye Gods, things have got to get better, and actually they do. The slow build-up to the arrival of the aliens is rather suspenseful, even with Sean Pertwee briefly turning up to spout words of doom, and when the huge alien ship appears to hover above the city ominously, the emphasis is on the effect on the humans below and our five friends trying to survive, though interestingly they aren’t the most moral of protagonists, sneaking into a supermarket to stock up while queues are getting ever more restless outside. There are arguments, fights and it seems something of a message about humankind’s propensity for nastiness. It seems quite possible that the human race could quite conceivably tear itself apart without the aliens doing any attacking. In some ways it’s a shame that the aliens do eventually play a more prominent role in the final third, which sadly throws in cliches by the bucket load from Area 51 to alien spies in human form. Still, the climactic stuff, which still keeps the human danger in the foreground while a full-blown battle goes on in the distance, is quite intense; there’s an attempted rape which is quite unpleasant considering it is being watched by a little girl, and things may not pan out the way you expect. I detected the welcome of influence of George Romero [back when he was good] here and there.
The film holds the attention throughout, but it can’t seem to decide whether to be a realistic study of what it would be like to try to survive in the circumstances in which it takes place, or a low-budget action movie. Sometimes incidents appear to be thrown in just because we haven’t had any action for fifteen minutes or so. In particular, there is a lengthy fight between Michael and a policeman which goes on for ages and which I wondered was inspired by the great brawl in the middle of They Live. Unfortunately, it seems out of place in U.F.O. and is filmed in the Shakycam method, so that after several minutes of the camera shaking like the operator was having an epileptic fit I not only got sore eyes but could almost feel a headache coming. Why the hell did the director decide that this was the way to go? Why the hell should films give me sore eyes and headache? Though his previous two films [which he didn’t write] How To Stop Being A Loser and Airborne didn’t impress me much, I do think that Dominic Burns does have some talent. He has a good knack for pacing and sometimes handles scenes in an interesting way, such as a dialogue scene where the camera revolve around the people Brian De Palma-style. He needs to reign in some rather bad tendencies though, and while his script for this film has a decent premise and a few good ideas, I think it could have done with some polish.
Considering the budget Burns had to play with though, U.F.O. is still worthy of some praise. The brief special effects feature CGI that is no worse than some of the stuff you see in very expensive movies, and some bits such as a rather hair-raising flight from a spaceship are quite impressively done. The performances are nothing special but get the job done, and I certainly ended up caring about the characters when really bad things started to happen. Despite it having some serious problems, I did find myself enjoying U.F.O. some of the time and I very doubt you’ll be bored.
DVD AND BLU RAY SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE:
* Deleted scenes
* Behind the scenes featurette