Now here’s a versatile attempt at the sci-fi genre, which makes its mark by not being an outright sci-fi movie. First, it is a personal drama of sorts as Joanne (Cara Buono), a Brooklyn housewife feels dead to everything. It’s always the same routine in dropping the kids off at school, being married, and doing errands. She’s not looking to break away from it all since, as seen in the second shot of the movie walking out of the supermarket pushing a full cart, she doesn’t know how to do that. Then, the sci-fi aspect permeates itself in Joanne encountering an alien force while standing in the kitchen of her nicely decorated home. But this isn’t the kind of movie world where big stars try to save the world from aliens or as with Francois Truffaut in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, try to make contact with the aliens, understand them, perhaps even strike a friendship with them.
In fact, “From other Worlds” deftly combines both, but in a most creative way. After she attends a UFO support group in the city, she meets Abraham (Isaach De Bankolé) who speaks to her of his own encounter, which happened on the roof of his apartment building during a good cigar. Then, after both stories are told to us, “Worlds” becomes a detective story as Joanne and Abraham find that they share the same markings on their bodies, markings which aren’t the typical alien markings found in a typical alien movie, thankfully. A library is scoured, a children’s book belonging to Joanne’s daughter leads to an important clue and soon, as crazy as Joanne’s husband (David Lansbury) believes her to be, all this leads to something big and both of them meet an alien (Joel de la Fuente) who claims that a scroll being examined by the Brooklyn Museum of Art is in fact an erroneous one left by his/her/its race which could leads to “chaos and destruction” on Earth. So right there, alien contact isn’t as complex or big as Spielberg once presented it. It’s just another ordinary day on Earth with ordinary things happening and ordinary people milling about the city. Joanne and Abraham just unknowingly picked the short straw. Fortunately, writer/director Barry Strugatz is savvy to all the sci-fi movie history over the past decades and uses de la Fuente as the perfect vehicle for a satire of all things science fiction, including his reason for appearing as an Asian.
What’s even nicer about “Worlds”, save for a few uncomfortable hiccups, is that New York City is just that. The cinematography by Mo Flam speaks out for the common resident. This is a city either to live in or live near. Brooklyn, Queens or wherever nearby, it’s there for anyone and everyone. What Stugatz finds with Buono, Bankolé and the city is a delicate balancing act. Buono fashions a fine performance as Joanne, just trying to live, taking each clue as it comes, even if she seems crazy. What else does she have to live for that she hasn’t already done? She’s married, she has kids. No point in domestic tranquility if it makes her look like she’s had many lobotomies done at the local hospital. Bankolé has the street smart look of a citizen who arrived in the United States a few years ago. He drives a cab, sells counterfeit watches, and works in a market, doing what needs doing to survive somewhere in the city. What he ultimately comes up with is dignity, quiet and concentrated, with a little healthy cynicism. Strugatz finds in both of them real city residents. We know and they know.
However, Strugatz stumbles with some of the other elements of his script. A subplot between a bookish librarian and a “researcher” is ultimately just a ploy to extend the running time so all of this can play easily at any number of film festivals. There’s no new information to glean from the researcher’s quest in finding the scroll, nothing that gives us more to know about our main personalities. And that UFO support group which Joanne attends is eager to help later on when they must break into the museum to switch the scrolls. But add some psychedelic colors and trippy music and it’s very close to a Scooby-Doo-type chase. It’s odd, though, that of all the stories passed around in the first scene of this support group, none of them would want to actually meet this alien, agreeing to back off when Joanne suggests that it may not be such a good idea. Even the dentist of the group wants to get back home, yapping about a 7 a.m. tee-off at a golf course. Screw them then. We’re the lucky ones.
It’s good then that “From Other Worlds” doesn’t strive for masses of people either looking at the alien spaceships before their demises or working to understand the communications being sent to them. Sometimes it’s enough to just have two people there to meet them. Two people are enough for the entire world and that’s what makes this a novel experience.