Fantastic Fest 2023: UFO Sweden Is Out Of This World

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fest

There is one more film I want to talk about from Fantastic Fest, one film that hit me really hard. Now I loved The Last Stop in Yuma County and Jackdaw very much, but there’s one film that stood out to me the most. One film really struck a chord with me for various reasons and left me speechless with just how beautiful, charming, and dark it was. I usually don’t go for films that really try and pull on our heartstrings and I was impressed a film like that could really get my attention. My best of the fest is hands down UFO Sweden.

UFO Sweden is written by Jimmy Nivrén Olsson and Victor Danell and directed by Victor Danell. It tells the story of Denise (Inez Dahl Torhaug) a young girl who is forced into foster care after the abrupt disappearance of her father. Her teen years become a search for answers to the whereabouts of her father, as she truly believes he’s still alive. Well, she believes he was abducted. Hoping to get help finding her father she enlists the assistance of a ragtag group of researchers called UFO Sweden. With their assistance, Denise hopes to use her knowledge of her father’s work to find where he may have been abducted from. What follows is a dark and beautiful tale about a search for answers and how sometimes that family really is the friends you make along the way.

“I hate being alone.”

“I don’t think we are alone.”

After I entered my review on Letterboxd I decided to take a peek at what some other people thought about the film. I was expecting a fair mix of 3s and 4s, but was really surprised when I saw one specific thing a lot: Stranger Things. People can like what they like, and that’s fine, plenty of people think Terrifier is a good movie. But this comparison to Stranger Things really rubbed me the wrong way. I can’t think of a show I like less than Stranger Things. It panders to a level of nostalgia never seen before, making it so that it can rely less on telling an intriguing story and going all in on, “Did you know this takes place in the 80s?!” UFO Sweden is nothing like Stranger ThingsUFO Sweden is real. It tells a story with a character a lot of people can relate to, in a way. Denise has something taken from her and she relies on the intellect she has from being forced to grow up at a really young age. To try and compare this film to that show is like trying to compare an orange to an apple covered in chocolate and caramel with a peanut M&M crust. Sure, that sounds tasty, but at that point, you’re not buying that to eat the apple. UFO Sweden tells a compelling and heartfelt tale based on its well-crafted story and visuals, no frills needed.

At its core UFO Sweden is a tale about the search for the unknown, and that’s why it pairs so well with the story of Denise looking for her father Uno (Oscar Töringe). Denise finds herself looking for the unexplainable because she chooses to believe her father would never leave her. While one member of the group believes he’s long gone, the rest of the group gives in to the search. But there’s really more to that. Other than wanting to find her father, Denise also longs to find something to belong to. She wants to be accepted. This idea goes hand in hand with the isolationism that tends to come with the search for the unexplained. Plus it would be easier to believe your father was abducted by aliens rather than complete abandonment.

Denise and Lennart stare off into a field as a UFO passes overhead
Image courtesy of Fantastic Fest

Visually UFO Sweden is stunning, and it doesn’t even do that much to stand out. The film exists in its own world and director Victor Danell and cinematographer Hannes Krantz do an excellent job of capturing that world. There’s a sequence that leads to the most visually stunning sequence towards the end that almost made me cry. When it comes to telling a UFO or alien story you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. If you can elicit the emotions of the fear and anxiety surrounding UFOs and still pull out all the stops at the emotionally relevant parts, then you know you have something special on your hands.

The real charm of this film comes from the scenes between Denise and Lennart (Jesper Barkselius). Lennart sort of fills the void of her father, while looking past the faults in Denise’s character, even when it’s in his worst interest. It’s not just that Denise is looking for a missing father figure, but it turns out that Lennart is looking for a connection too. It’s hard not to smile when you see them interact with each other, and the scenes of them fighting are even harder to watch. It should go without saying that because Denise’s father is missing, she NEEDS to have someone to fill that role. It also probably helps that Inez Dahl Torhaug and Jesper Barkselius are stellar performers. There is not a scene that goes by where it doesn’t seem like they are giving 110%. And when the whole ensemble is together, well, it’s out of this world.

UFO Sweden was a treat in every aspect, it hits every single point I want a genre film to hit. This is not a horror film, but it is definitely horror-adjacent in the ways that matter. And if you don’t find the idea of an ever-expanding universe with untold horrors beyond terrifying then good on you. UFO Sweden hits all of the marks I want from a horror-adjacent film. It’s a period piece that doesn’t rely on nostalgia, as many properties of this ilk do. Jimmy Nivrén Olsson and Victor Danell knew what film they wanted to make and what story they wanted to tell…and they expertly did that. This film is for many different audiences and I think it landed at just the right time. I just wish it existed when I was younger. The technical prowess of UFO Sweden would have inspired a young me to make even more home movies than I already did.

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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