Film review: UFO Sweden (Victor Dinell, 2022)
“To believe is one thing, to know is something completely different”. It’s a quote used several times in Victor Dinell’s and Crazy Pictures new movie UFO Sweden, something as rare as a Swedish science fiction movie. It goes back to a quote by Clas Svahn, one of the more well known members of UFO Sverige, as a former president of Sweden’s leading — and nowadays only — organization focusing on unidentified flying objects and unexplained phenomena. It’s what’s called the third way of ufology, balancing carefully in the middle of belief and rationality. Nothing is out of the question, but proof is still the most important thing to gather before identifying the unidentified. It’s also the main theme of the movie, where belief and rationality is something that both divides and brings together.
The year is 1988 and young Denise (Lilly Lexfors) is out with her father, the intense and obsessed UFO nut Uno (Oscar Töringe) on a mission. He’s obsessed with SMHI (the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute), who he thinks knows something that they won’t share with the rest of Sweden: the answer to the UFO mystery. To the sound of Alphaville’s Forever Young he disappears into the snowy night and is never seen again together with his SAAB. We meet Denise again in 1996, played by Inez Dahl Torhaug, and now a very rebellious teenager. Her interest in astronomy, mathematics and computers has intensified, but she uses it for less than constructive purposes. One night something happens that challenges her worldview. The car, seemingly the same as her father’s, crashes into a barn during a dark night and his disappearance once again becomes the focus of her life. She gets in contact with her father’s old organization, UFO Sweden, who slightly hesitates to investigate the case. But not everyone is happy about this. Will this lead to another downfall of their organization? Isn’t it safer to just sit and drink coffee and do nothing, rather than get out on adventures? They soon learn that something weird is going on, and the presence of Denise both creates a rift among the members — but also a newfound passion to find the truth.
For some reason, science fiction movies are rare in Sweden. Sure, there’s a few — including the recent film adaptation of Aniara (Pella Kagerman & Hugo Lilja, 2018), a fine and depressing slice of space traveling tragedy, but when it comes to more — let’s call it commercial movies, they can be counted on one hand. And especially when it deals with something as fringe, and still mainstream, as UFOs.
Virgil W. Vogel’s Rymdinvasion i Lappland (1959), later re-edited as Invasion of the Animal People, is one — even if it’s difficult to take it seriously. However, to be fair, the scenes where the monster is destroying villages up in Lapland are fantastic, sporting both some cool miniature works and an awesome monster suit.
Hans Hatwig’s Gröna Gubbar från Y.R. (1986) introduces little people painted green in a family friend sci-fi comedy partly financed by then future co-founder of neo-fascist party Ny Demokrati, Bert Karlsson, offers little entertainment — but instead gives the audience a brief guest appearance by Duane Loken from How the West Was Won. That’s something I guess?
Michael Hjort’s Det Okända from 2000 isn’t bad in retrospective, but got terribly bashed at the time and kinda still carries that unfair title as a crap movie up until this day, when in reality it’s a pretty tense little sci-fi thriller with vibes of both Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Blair Witch Project.
Ten years later Björne Hellquist and Robert Pukitis’ unleashed their mediocre Predator-ripoff Sektor 236, and the less said about it, the better. A lot more fun, and I say that as the co-writer of it, is Ola Paulakoski’s mix of splatter, broad comedy and science fiction, Hermit: Monster Killer (2016).
Anyways, one thing is clear, UFO Sweden comes as a savior and gives hope for science fiction in this godforsaken country. The collective behind the movie is Crazy Pictures, who made their feature film debut with Den Blomstertid Nu Kommer (aka The Unthinkable, 2018). It’s set during an attack on Sweden, where “someone” is making the citizens go crazy in all sorts of violent ways, often involving spectacular crashes and explosions. Scriptwise, it’s a mess — and the acting is often subpar, but it has something: a sense of epic. It looks stunning and the action and special effects are shot like the biggest Hollywood movie (and often better). I like it, but could have been so much better. However, UFO Sweden corrects all of that with a pretty stellar script which manages to both be very Hollywood mainstream and still personal and Swedish. It just looks fantastic, and even if it’s packed with excitement in the shape of chases and effects, it’s still at the core a very human story — and the characters are always, even when outrageous things happen around them, at the frontline. Looking at the cast, I’d say that everyone is perfectly casted. Inez Dahl Torhaug as Denise and Jesper Barkselius as the sometimes reluctant but hopeful and warm Lennart, the current president of UFO Sweden have so much chemistry together, and are surrounded by a bunch of fine character actors, all top-notch. It’s one of those scripts where everyone gets a chance to be both sympathetic, multilayered and fun. For example, Isabelle Kyed as the stout, chain-smoking Töna is a stand out, and absolutely owned every scene she was in. Niklas Kvarnbo Jönsson as the close to mental Karl-Tefat has a kindness and honesty that shines through, Mathias Lithner as the awkward Mats is someone we’ve all met and cared for. Håkan Ehn, who plays the bitter and grumpy old-timer of this ragtag team of small town ufologists and misfits could easily have been a cliché, but is written — and acted — with more depth than I first imagined. Bravo.
The origin story of the movie itself started with Crazy Pictures discovery of Archives for the Unexplained and UFO-Sverige, and yeah, as a member and supporter myself of these organizations, it is quite evident that a LOT of inspiration is taken from them. However, always with a sense of humor and warmth, because this is not a mean movie — it doesn’t make fun of the subject or us who are interested in it, instead it laughs with us and not at us. I often say that humor belongs in ufology, and self-awareness is extra important in this sometimes very absurd world of weirdness. It is an excellent coping mechanism when questions go unanswered — as they often do when it comes to the unknown.
UFO Sweden is a stellar adventure movie with heart and soul. And some REALLY cool set-pieces. Keep your eyes peeled, I’m sure it will soon reach your neck of the woods. And remember, look up at the sky. One day you might see something out of the ordinary.
Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer, researcher and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of three books. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm, with his photographer husband Grzegorz and two overly active cats. Join him on Twitter and Instagram.