MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Unidentified’

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Film: Unidentified
Starring: Eric Artell, Parry Shen
Directed by: Jason Richard Miller

There have been at least two films in the last year that have attempted to leverage the insanity of a wild night in Las Vegas with the affordability of shooting ‘found footage’ style. The first attempt, Best Night Ever, tried to take the same route of The Hangover, only with girls, and came out a disaster. The latest, which follows four young men and involves the possibility of extraterrestrials, is unfortunately not any better.

Jodie is a stereotypical nerd in the digital generation: He lacks basic social skills, has no real friends to speak of, relies on social media to feel connected to the world, and bases essentially all his self worth on whether or not people feel compelled to subscribe to his superhero-obsessed YouTube channel. A wild weekend in Vegas is not exactly the first trip you would expect to find him, but when his sister requests his presence to help her spy on her husband’s gambling problems through the use of video equipment he finds himself nestled into the back of a packed SUV exploring the open landscape known as rural Nevada on his way to Sin City.

Every road trip needs pit stops, and when the gang of gamblers in Unidentified find themselves craving food an alien-themed diner is the perfect solution. They refuel with cheap food while locals entertain (and annoy) them with tales of local oddities, including Sasquatch sightings and yes – even UFOs. Jodie hangs on every word, but everyone else does their best to write it off as a joke.

The gang makes another detour or two, but they eventually make it to Sin City, and as these films tend to go their plans for epic fun quickly go off the rails, veering rather quickly into life-threatening territory. The gang decides to flee their hotel in a panic only to find themselves are lost in middle the Nevada desert as a storm approaches, which is the perfect setting for a film whose lighting relies mainly on flashlights and ever-present genre crutch known as night vision. Lightning soon strikes, or least what appears to be lightning, and not long after the car dies. Sleeping in the car overnight appears to be their only option, which seems fine at first, but by the time the sun rises their world will have changed forever.

The conceit of Unidentified is hard to top, especially in the world of found footage. The film tries to tell a very large story in a very simple manner, and to its credit there is a good portion of the story that works well when told in this manner. The problems arise during transitional sequences, and any film that involves as much traveling as Unidentified is bound to have more than one scene that exists solely to move things forward geographically. These particular sequences offer nothing of substance to the viewer, and ultimately begin to weigh down the runtime even though the feature length doesn’t quite hit the 90-minute mark. The characters are all too panicked to ever take a moment and reflect on what is taking place around them. Instead, the camera shakes and audio becomes muddy while the group runs aimlessly under stars and city lights. It’s the same problem that has plagued found footage horror since The Blair Witch Project, and as shocking as it may be t read it is not solved with this feature.

When the final twist in Unidentified’s story begins to unravel it becomes abundantly clear you have been tricked yet again into watching 80+ minutes of footage that could be any other found footage film for a few brief moments of originality. For what it’s worth, those moments are quite satisfying for the entertainment starved sci-fi junkie in all of us, but it’s certainly not enough to make you feel like the previous hour-plus was time well spent.

Unidentified tries to be a lot of things, but it never does a single one of them well enough to be anything more than average. If the film had chosen to follow Jodie’s obsession with superheroes it would have worked. If it followed the plot involving the mob and vegas it would have worked. Heck, if it would have followed the plot about aliens and the unknown it would have worked. The problem is that Unidentified never really chose what kind of found footage film it wanted to be and it fails to satisfy on any level as a result. Forget it exists and move on. There is nothing to see here worth an hour-and-a-half of your time.

Score: D+

Written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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