The dreamy sci-fi romance “We Are Living Things” might have been pitched as a “two people who have experienced UFO abductions” “the truth is out there” mystery.
But the abductions depicted here are more mundane and down to Earth. The whole “search for aliens” business turns out to be a lot less interesting than you might hope or expect. The thing is, the filmmakers figured that out, too, and a quiet, somber romance spins out of shared trauma and “belief.”
As a rule, I’m fonder of movies that have a bit more going on. But this odd, moody movie in a minor key has a mesmerizing quality that engages in different ways.
Jorge Antonio Guerrero (“Roma”) is Solomon, an illegal alien with a thing for space aliens. He’s in New York, an undocumented laborer who works and lives, in a open shed out back, a scrapyard. By day he sorts metals and crushes cans, or takes care of building maintenance at the half-ruined flophouse the owners run down the street. By night, he’s out metal detecting, look for magnetic rocks and “evidence.”
A striking Chinese woman (Xingchen Lyu of “Wisdom Tooth”) gets his attention and gives him a deja vu feeling of connection. When he fixes her plumbing in the flop house, he spies UFO photos and a magnetic rock and wonders if she’s a kindred spirit.
He stalks Chuyao to her day job in a manicure shop, and her after hours work as the “date” of some hustler named Tiger (Zao Wang) who must have been the person who smuggled her into the U.S. She’s as creeped-out as you might expect anyone being stalked to be. But the whole Tiger arrangement seems unsavory and dangerous, and even Solomon abducting her seems almost reasonable.
That’s when she figures out what they have in common, when she sees his DIY electronic efforts to listen in to whatever’s “out there” in space and when she develops feelings for this enterprising immigrant who, like her, has first-hand knowledge of whatever goes on when people say they’ve had “Communion” with beings from flying saucers.
The blessing here is how little the film and its dialogue are concerned with that UFO hook. What’s more interesting is how this out-of-sorts Chinese woman learns to trust this Mexican who proves to us long before he proves to her that he’s got her best interests at heart.
The leads are an intriguing contrast, each getting across a performance that doesn’t really spell out “character” or advance the story all that much. Lyu and Guerrero sell “mysterious” and “romantic” in understated ways.
“We Are Living Things” is more a movie of feelings than plot or explanations of that plot and the characters. And as such, dark as it sometimes gets, it’s a winner. It’s too slight to oversell or hype. But as long as you see it or stream it without expecting “Signs” to pop up and scare you to do death or “E.T.” to phone home, it makes a pleasantly diverting romance with just enough science fiction in it to merit the label.
Rating: unrated, violence, drugs
Cast: Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Xingchen Lyu, Zao Wang and O-Lan Jones.
Credits: Directed by Antonio Tibaldi, scripted by Antonio Tibaldi and Alex Lora. A Juno release.
Running time: 1:36