“UFO: Es Ist Hier” (a.k.a. “UFO: It Is Here”) is a sci-fi horror found footage film from Germany that is written and directed by Daniele Grieco. The movie follows five film students shooting a documentary at a local zoo who set out to investigate what they believe to be a nearby meteorite crash.
UFO Es Ist Hier is director Daniele Grieco’s second found footage film, following in the footsteps of his recent paranormal horror film, Die Präsenz (2014). Daniele Grieco’s latest film utilizes many of his signature techniques from Die Präsenz (2014)—disturbing visceral sounds, lots of momentum, and plenty of jump scares.
The film opens with an on-screen message indicating that the footage about to be presented was recovered during August 2015 “in a barn in the Belgian Ardennes near the German Border. The region was declared a closed military area.”
Daniele Grieco’s latest film utilizes many of his signature techniques from Die Präsenz (2014)
From here the story transitions to a group of film students shooting a documentary about the animals in the local zoo. Just as one of the film students, Melissa (Laura Berlin), is about to start her interview with the zoo director (Andreas Ladwig), all of the animals started behaving hysterically, screeching and howling, and running around panic-stricken.
Moments later a bright unearthly object flies overhead and appears to impact the forest off in the distance. The film students vote to abandon their zoo documentary in favor of tracking down this seemingly extraterrestrial object, which they believe would make for a more exciting story.
The group quickly packs their equipment and drives in the general direction of the fallen object, heading deep into the backroads of the forest until they happen upon a large plume of smoke on the horizon. The curious film students stop their van and head out on foot to get a closer look. While hiking they encounter a recently abandoned vehicle that looks like it was ripped open from the outside.
As the film students venture deeper into the forest, they find the impact site—the ground and plant life are smoldering with burning embers and bits of metal are strewn on the ground and embedded in the trees.
With the sun going down, and fearful that the authorities will soon arrive and quarantine the area, the students decide to spend the night in their van and film the story in the morning. With limited space in the van, André (Lan Walker) sleeps on the ground outside with a blanket.
The next morning the group are dismayed to find André missing. Oddly enough, the students find André’s video camera nearby, but André is nowhere to be found. Searching deeper into the forest the group comes upon a trail of blood that leads to a gruesome discovery. The small group of filmmakers, now lost in the forest, come to the realization that something not of this world is stalking them.
Found Footage Cinematography
The found footage cinematography used in UFO Es Ist Hier is exceptional. The cinematic techniques used in UFO Es Ist Hier bear a strong resemblance to Die Präsenz (2014), which is to be expected given that Daniele Grieco directed both films.
Director Daniele Grieco understands the importance and impact sound in a found footage film
UFO Es Ist Hier is shot with the one video camera that the students brought with them to film their zoo documentary. Similar to Die Präsenz (2014), director Daniele Grieco often has the characters place the video camera in a fixed position during scenes where the characters spend significant time at one location. This approach is very smart as it minimizes the amount of shaky footage introduced in the film, offering a more stable narrative feel to the final product.
While the cinematography is very strong, there is one scene that takes place in a cave that is shot very chaotically with many quick cuts. This particular sequence breaks from the formula used both before and after that scene. While the cave scene effectively conveys the confusion experienced by the characters, the editing detracts somewhat from the found footage conceit UFO Es Ist Hier sets out to achieve.
The audio in UFO Es Ist Hier is handled as exceptionally as the visuals. All too often, directors shooting found footage films taking place outdoors elect to mic the actors, resulting in dialog that sounds artificial. Director Daniele Grieco understands the importance and impact of sound in a found footage film.
In UFO Es Ist Hier, as the characters approach and move away from the video camera, their voices strengthen and fade accordingly, indicating that Daniele Grieco is most likely using the onboard microphone or a forward facing directional microphone.
One of Daniele Grieco’s strengths is his use of sound to set the tone of his films—and UFO Es Ist Hier is no exception. The creature sound effects create a foreboding atmosphere that conveys the true danger faced by the unsuspecting film students. Similar to Paranormal Activity (2007), the audio effects are designed to create anticipation for viewers of a possible encounter.
Visual Special Effects
UFO Es Ist Hier is somewhat unique in the film’s heavy use of practical effects. We had a chance to interview Daniele Grieco, who explained his thoughts on practical versus CGI effects: “I prefer producing effects practically on the set whenever possible and try to avoid effects that are generated in post-production—they never look as real, organic, and impressive as practical effects.”
The outstanding creature effects are a testament to the effort and dedication of director Daniele Grieco to his craft
Daniele Grieco went on to explain that there were only two effects in the film that used CGI: “The only exceptions in this movie were the columns of smoke seen once in the beginning and once towards the end (it would have been impractical to set the forest on fire for those short moments and realistic smoke is easy to make in post—and of course the UFO itself. Those VFX effects were created by Jessica Hawich who’s only twenty-two years old, but extremely talented.”
The creature effects in UFO Es Ist Hier are all practical, yet look decidedly organic. The outstanding creature effects are a testament to the effort and dedication of director Daniele Grieco to his craft. In our interview, Daniele Grieco indicated that he strove to develop effects that “looked as real and visceral as those in Ridley Scott’s unsurpassed Alien (1979).”
UFO Es Ist Hier contains a cave scene with a significant number of creature effects. During this scene, the character Leo says, “the humidity is fogging up the lens.” This single line of dialog provides ample (and brilliant) justification for director Daniele Grieco to do just that, fog the lens—enabling him to mask the practical effects during this pivotal scene.
One particularly effective scene is a mass bird kill, where the carcasses of what appears to be hundreds of birds are strewn on the forest floor. This simple practical effect offers a gruesome environment for the characters to react to, while at the same time creating a dark and foreboding atmosphere.
Perhaps the most highly underutilized practical effect in outdoor found footage films is blood and gore. During many scenes throughout the film, Daniele Grieco splatters blood on the tree trunks in the forest and lays trails of blood and mild gore. Similar to the bird effects, this simple practical effect completely transforms the forest from a serene environment to something very dangerous for the characters. The added nuance of the buzzing of flies around the bird carcasses and blood splatters further bolsters those scenes.
The filming reasons used throughout UFO Es Ist Hier are strong. First and foremost, the protagonists are film students with a natural propensity and drive to film everything around them. Additionally, the film students explicitly set out to shoot a story for their school film project, which is due the following week—so whether they film a zoo or meteorite, the protagonists have a compelling need to film something.
Later in the film, and further bolstering the filming reason, one of the characters makes the comment, “we’re recording this for the police,” presumably as evidence as to what happened to André. Finally, since the film students are forced to spend the night in the forest, they use the video camera as a light source, explaining much of the night footage.
Despite its strengths, the filming reason breaks down to some degree during daytime scenes towards the end where the characters film under extreme stress and danger. While it’s possible that the characters would film under life-threatening circumstances, holding the camera upright and composed during these situations is problematic.
Found Footage Purity
The found footage purity of UFO Es Ist Hier is very well done. Generally speaking, the camerawork and sound used throughout the film come across as genuine footage that may have actually been shot and subsequently recovered.
Early in UFO Es Ist Hier, footage of the students setting up their shoot with the zoo director sets the stage for filming that looks decidedly real. The flurry of activity, sound checks, and wardrobe comments go a long way towards selling the veracity of the film.
Also of note is the dialog between the characters discussing how many camera batteries and memory cards they have to continue filming. Having the characters raise this concern (rather than the viewer) justifies the group’s capacity to film for such an extended period of time.
Although the found footage purity is strong, it is not without some challenges. As discussed earlier, the cave scenes are shot very chaotically with many quick cuts which are not indicative of found footage—this sequence of events begs the question as to who edited the found footage in this manner and why. Despite this transgression, the found footage purity in UFO Es Ist Hier is exceptional.
The acting in UFO Es Ist Hier is well above average. Olga von Luckwald as Paula performs exceptionally as the strong headed sensible member of the group who reluctantly goes along with her fellow students’ decision to venture out into the forest. She also lends a healthy dose of dry sarcastic humor early in the film as she banters with her fellow students.
Olga von Luckwald as Paula performs exceptionally as the strong headed sensible member of the group
Laura Berlin as Melissa does a good job as the soft-spoken and quietest member of the group. Most of her acting is visual—effectively conveying someone who is paralyzed with fear. Her character becomes increasingly reclusive and unresponsive as the danger escalates. Olga von Luckwald and Laura Berlin have a believable chemistry and comradery as they comfort and support each other when confronted by the horrors they encounter in the forest.
Jan Walter does a good job at André, the jovial and carefree member of the group. Dennis Mojen as Leo is stellar as the de facto leader of the group. Unfortunately, his character’s curiosity gets the best of him later in the film and ends up being a detriment to the group. Leonard Hohm performs admirably as the subdued grief-stricken student, Erik, who like the rest of the group, wants to find his way out of the forest and back to civilization.
The acting throughout UFO Es Ist Hier is very good. Of particular note are the character’s reactions to the fate of their friend André. When they discover the fate of their friend André, the characters walk around confused and in a stupor—their visceral reactions to the situation comes across as wholly realistic.
If UFO Es Ist Hier evokes images of Alien (1979), this is by design. Director Daniele Grieco cites Alien (1979) as one of his “biggest influences,” adding “It scared me to death when I was twelve years old … and I think it’s one of the greatest masterpieces in film history.”
Very rarely does the ending of a film startle me, and UFO Es Ist Hier did just that!
The opening title card and accompanying soundtrack bear a strong resemblance to Alien (1979), as do numerous plot elements and the creature effects. Despite the similarities to Alien (1979), the plot goes off in an entirely different direction. The callbacks to Alien (1979) are more of an homage to the historically significant horror sci-fi film.
The plot of UFO Es Ist Hier offers an interesting take on the alien invasion sub-genre. While the story and characters are compelling and the special effects are phenomenal, unfortunately, the film suffers from some pacing issues. A number of scenes in the forest and cave move too slowly—and this reviewer had difficulty maintaining focus during some of these long segments. As good as the film is, UFO Es Ist Hier would benefit from trimming the length of some of these longer scenes to maintain the pace established early on in the story.
Pacing issues aside, the film infuses a good number of jump scares, some fake and some real, which are likely to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
The film does a good job showing just how isolated the characters are from civilization. As is true with most found footage films that take place in a remote location, there’s no cell phone signal, which prevents the characters from calling the authorities. Additionally, the alien presence plays havoc with the group’s compass, preventing the characters from getting their bearings in the thick forest.
Another interesting element is the alien’s unique ability to disrupt technology. This ability is demonstrated early in the film through video and audio artifacts captured when an alien is nearby but escalates in a fresh and exciting way later in the film. In order to avoid spoilers, we will refrain from discussing this plot element further.
One key question raised by UFO Es Ist Hier is whether the alien presence is intelligent or merely acting on instinct, which is answered, in part, as the film progresses, but is never fully fleshed out. UFO Es Ist Hier shines during the climactic ending of the film—Very rarely does the ending of a film startle me, and UFO Es Ist Hier did just that!