Thursday, February 03, 2022

Slamdance ’22: We are Living Things

If there are aliens out there, they shrewdly select people for their close encounters. They only show themselves to the credibility challenged, like hermits, eccentrics, weirdos, Jimmy Carter, etc. Two conventional undocumented aliens—one from China, the other from Mexico—certainly qualify as marginalized and they have personal history that makes them believers in Antonio Tibaldi’s We are Living Things, which screens (online) as part of the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.

Chuyao was smuggled to New York by a trafficking gang that still controls her, in typical trafficker ways. While servicing her tenement apartment, Solomon the handyman spots tell-tale signs of their mutual alien obsession. Considering her a kindred spirit, he starts watching over her. Soon, he suspects Tiger, her handler, has nefarious plans for her. However, Chuyao is instinctively distrustful of Solomon, as she is of nearly everyone in America.

Eventually, Tibaldi’s film
turns into a road movie, with the two UFO-trackers searching for an abduction site with special personal meaning to Solomon. In many ways, Living Things could serve as an apt companion film to Encounter, but while one steadily debunks its paranormal aspects, the other keeps the door open to the possibility.

Regardless, the business involving Chuyao’s traffickers and Solomon’s efforts to save her are probably sufficiently compelling own their own, even if they were divorced from the other genre elements. Xingchen Lyu and Jorge Antonio Guerrero are both quiet and reserved on-screen as Chuyao and Solomon, but their performances are sensitive, yet intense. There is a sort of natural logic to their chemistry, beyond their interest in little green men. Zao Wang is also sleazily sinister as Tiger, the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing.

This is definitely grungy independent filmmaking, but cinematographer Luca Bigazzi still pulls off some pretty amazing shots. Tibaldi and co-screenwriter-editor Alex Lora largely keep politics out of it, focusing on the evils of human trafficking, instead of pontificating on immigration policy. As a result, it is really more of a gritty thriller than alien-conspiracy science fiction, but tinfoil hat-wearing fans of the
X-Files-style subgenre should also relate to it. Recommended as some thoughtful genre straddling, We are Living Things screens online through Sunday (2/6), during this year’s Slamdance.