The science fiction genre has become almost synonymous with big, Hollywood blockbuster productions, as we rarely see independent British directors attempt such a particular brand of filmmaking. However, Dominic Burns – who brought us How to Stop Being a Loser – ambitiously returns with U.F.O., a film about, you guessed it, a big bloody U.F.O.
We follow the lives of five ordinary people living in Derby who awake one morning to find all electricity and power shut off, and an immense alien aircraft hovering in the air above their heads. Amongst those searching for answers are the hot-headed Michael (Sean Brosnan), his new love interest Carrie (Bianca Bree), and friends Robin (Simon Phillips), Dana (Maya Grant) and Vincent (Jazz Lintott). Suddenly this regular group of friends are battling to survive, as the entire human race is put at threat by the alien army hovering pensively above…
Despite what the title – and poster – may have you believe, U.F.O. is not so much about an alien invasion, but of the human race, and how such a disaster could change us, with the conclusion being; we’re a nasty bunch. Burns refuses to deviate away from our protagonists’ lives, as he remains strictly in Derby, which allows for this epic narrative to remain somewhat intimate. Because Burns stays within such means, it allows for the audience to identify with the lead roles, as there is naturally something appealing about ordinary people placed in surreal circumstances. Burns does a good job of normalising them early on– with comic banter, nights out and a game of charades – to help maximise the emotional effect of when the U.F.O. appears.
The problem is, however, we don’t believe in the surrealism as it’s not particularly well crafted. Of course you have to take the relatively small budget into account, and comparing to Hollywood blockbusters seems trivial at best given the difference in budgets, but that can’t excuse the transpiring detachment from the story. In fairness, Burns is hardly going for a gritty, realistic approach anyway, so the mediocre effects are not too important in the grand scheme of things.
Although praising Burns for his ambition, he does attempt a little too much in this instance. If you’re going to do a sci-fi, do a sci-fi. The comedy angle to the picture feels out of place, and sadly the film isn’t quite funny enough to warrant its inclusion. The frivolous, quirky one-liners in the early stages of the film feel contrived and don’t suit the overall nature of the film. The attempt at humour is so palpable, that when the action sequences take precedence over the movie, they feel cheapened by what came before.
The biggest issue within U.F.O. however, comes in the acting performances. Although the film is certainly creative, we have compelling combat sequences and the story is strong, ultimately that doesn’t account for much if the script is lacklustre and the performances below-par, and regrettably both aspects are adequate at best. The key offender is Brosnan, who struggles to really capture the angst the character of Michael needs in order to fully believe in him, and root for his survival. On a side-note, he is the spitting image of his father Pierce. While fortunately for Bree, she looks absolutely nothing like her father, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who, incidentally, also takes up a cameo role within the film.
U.F.O. is very fast paced and upbeat – helped along by a rapid edit and a pulsating dance music soundtrack – so you certainly can’t complain about the entertainment value of the feature. However when you strip it down and analyse is critically, there is a lot left to be desired. Nonetheless, and though the quality is lacking somewhat, Burns must be commended as an innovative, upcoming director who continues to push himself, and independent British cinema.