Written by Anna Harrison
Antonio Tibaldi’s “We Are Living Things” follows a quest to discover the truth about UFOs and aliens—but despite its sci-fi trappings, “We Are Living Things” concerns itself with a different kind of alien: Chuyao (Xingchen Lyu) and Solomon (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) are both illegal immigrants in New York, alienated from their homes and families and alienated from the country they live in. Chuyao works as a manicurist, and Solomon at a recycling plant, though he takes up the occasional odd job; their paths cross when Solomon arrives to fix a toilet in the apartment Chuyao shares with her boyfriend-slash-pimp, Tiger (Zao Wang). While there, Solomon discovers that Chuyao shares the same obsession with UFOs and abductions that he does; upon following her and witnessing the dangers she’s placed in—via a harrowing, gripping scene that involves Chuyao nearly getting vacuum-sealed in plastic, entombed while breathing—he kidnaps her. (The extremely murky morality of this event is only barely questioned by the film and by the kidnappee herself. Whoops?)
Once thrown together, the halting interactions between Chuyao and Solomon, neither of whom can speak the other’s native language, are quiet and subdued, bolstered by Lyu and Guerrero’s magnetism, which isn’t quite enough to make up for the lack of character depth but does a decent enough patch job. The film’s already slim cast soon whittles down even more as Chuyao and Solomon go on the run, and the social isolation they experienced as immigrants in New York becomes literal as they set out to the middle of nowhere in Arizona to see the place where Solomon believes his mother was abducted. Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi takes full advantage of the sweeping, empty vistas provided and crafts some beautiful images, but the hollow characters still bog the movie down—pretty pictures alone do not make a film.
Things begin to ramp up upon the introduction of Constance (O-Lan Jones), a woman from Solomon’s childhood who encourages his extraterrestrial obsession. This introduction, unfortunately, takes place in the last twenty minutes of the movie, but adds a depth previously missing as Solomon begins to examine the circumstances of his mother’s disappearance. While the movie’s commentary on the loneliness and alienation many immigrants experience is constant, it never hits home until the finale, and the final shot of Chuyao and Solomon is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. Had these layers come earlier, “We Are Living Things” could have stood out; as it is, it’s a bit too little, too late, and most of the movie passes in an indistinct haze.
“We Are Living Things” Trailer
“We Are Living Things” played at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.
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