They’re Here


Reviewed by: Sergiu Inizian

They're Here
"The camera embraces each of their stories with a lot of heart and imaginative curiosity."

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe – I accept that," says Cookie to the camera, as the interview is ending. Her conviction sets the scene for a quirky exploration of UFO culture, which directors Pacho Velez and Daniel Claridge approach with a light-hearted touch. At the core of the empathetic narrative of genuine curiosity, a handful of believers from upstate New York open up about their experiences. The cineastes, inspired by the subject’s peculiarity, depart from the traditional documentary form and empower the testimonials through vibrant visuals. In the process, the deep-seated emotions of the interviewees emerge, conveyed to the audience through a sincere fascination with aliens.

With New York being the state with the fifth-most UFO sightings in the US, the directorial duo sets out to find people who claim to have had close encounters with aliens. One of them is Steve, a metalworker who believes he was abducted as a child. Using a board game of his own making to trace his distant memories, he aims to inspire other abductees to follow in his footsteps. Inspired by the game's psychedelic nature, the filmmakers employ a similar style, experimenting with visual effects that bounce between science-fiction reference points, from campy B-movies to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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The cineastes and participants feed off each other's reactions, unafraid of playful approaches and curious premises. As blinding abduction sequences substitute the tame talking head format, factual ambitions make room for a UFO story rooted in personal insight. This airy style allows Cookie, who claims to have been abducted 14 times, to speak her mind and laugh with the interviewers, who are unafraid to challenge her perspective. At the same time, Steve slowly reveals traumatic details about his childhood, showing the audience his deepest emotions, beyond any labels his alien fascination might impose on him.

We also meet Dave, a young man who caught the attention of his local TV station with a video of a perceived alien ship. Despite his family's support, David feels out of place, especially as this event leads him to therapy and the resurfacing of past traumas. In a similarly despondent frame of mind, stand-up comedian Twon constantly workshops jokes about aliens, often mentioning he would like to be abducted. Their shared isolation leads them to an alien fair, where Steve is also seen, selling copies of his board game. Guided by the eerie glow of Jason Staczek's score, the group's collective narrative converges in a place of compassionate reassurance.

While some exorcise their alien obsession and others rediscover a sense of purpose at the fair, the camera embraces each of their stories with a lot of heart and imaginative curiosity. This empathetic perspective allows Velez and Claridge to craft a documentary that doesn't focus on investigating the hard truths about extraterrestrial existence. Instead, it embraces the necessity of a sense of wonder in everyday life. Similar to how Marty, an investigator who invalidates UFO reports for a living, welcomes the possibility of aliens with a telling smile.

Reviewed on: 08 Jun 2024
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A group of upstate New Yorkers share their close encounters with extraterrestrial beings.

Director: Daniel Claridge, Pacho Velez

Year: 2024

Runtime: 74 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2024

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