An undocumented migrant searching for UFO abductions finds a kindred spirit under the control of a sadistic pimp. We are living things follows a dark and eerie journey into the mysteries of human attachment. Two seemingly different protagonists on the fringes of American society connect as they flee into the unknown. Their relationship blossoms over a shared trauma that defines them both. The film exquisitely combines noir and science fiction elements to create a dangerous yet seductive atmosphere. We Are Living Things rivets until a final act that is deliberately ambiguous.
In Brooklyn, Solomon (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), a Mexican illegal alien, uses a metal detector to uncover a strange rock buried underground. He takes it back to his workplace at the recycling center “Sure We Can”. Solomon has set up a satellite dish and radio transmitter. He is allowed to live there as a handy man for the brusque owner (Alfonso Rey). Solomon is sent to fix the bathroom of another immigrant. He is surprised that Chuyao (Xingchen Lü) also has a stone similar to one he found.
Solomon follows Chuyao to her job working in a nail salon. He soon discovers that she is in debt to Tiger (Zao Wang); posing as his niece to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Zao implants Chuyao with a chip to track her movements at all times. He prostitutes her to men with a twisted and disturbing fetish.
Chuyao notices that Solomon has seen her activities. She tells him to stay away, but he refuses. Tiger arranges a horrific incident that changes Salomon’s calculation of her situation. Chuyao is in imminent danger. They are magnetically drawn to each other on the run. Solomon needs her help to complete a mission that has dominated his life for years.
Something sinister is brewing
You wonder what Salomon is doing and trying to achieve. His quiet tinkering with various devices intrigues in the opening minutes. Solomon then observes like a hawk as Chuyao is chased around by the vile tiger. The inky blackness of an ominous night juxtaposed with the vibrant neon of Asian salons. There is something sinister brewing that forces Solomon’s hand. Director/co-writer Antonio Tibaldi, known primarily as a documentary filmmaker (Thy Father’s Chair), builds tension in the first act without revealing dialogue. He weaves poignant exposition through imagery and action. We are living things have extraordinary moments of silence.
The film takes a different path when Solomon and Chuyao are together. They are hurt and broken by past events that have driven them together. Chuyao has been trafficked and abused, but still retains her delicate nature. Solomon’s hard life chiseled him like a weapon. He does what is necessary to achieve goals. Their feelings grow as the bridge of uncertainty between them narrows on a road trip. They become a lock and a key. Opening their hearts to an opportunity that is literally out of this world.
We are living things cannot simply be defined. There is so much happening across several categories. Tibaldi puts criminal exploitation, science fiction and romance into a narrative blender. The characters have a quiet sophistication that is absorbing. The solution is not straightforward. Some may be let down, but I was thrilled to the end.
We are living things is a production of Berta Film, EnMaze Pictures, No Permits Produktions and Radical Plans. The film has English, Mandarin and Spanish dialogue with subtitles. It opens in theaters on August 12 from Juno Films.