Chris Mangano, “Laws of the Universe” (2019)
As is usually the case with sci-fi film shorts uploaded to Youtube by DUST, this film makes up for in depth and quality what it lacks in the way of a budget. Houston (Sidney Brown Jr) has spent 16 years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, after being wrongly convicted of killing someone. While in prison he actually did murder someone out of self-defence which explains why he is in solitary confinement. He is waiting to be released from jail after using the time to educate himself in law and learning yoga and meditation. Unfortunately the prison wardens seem to have disappeared so he contacts his mother on his cellphone and she tells him to turn on his TV set. He does so and sure enough, a strange UFO is hovering above Los Angeles, attracting so much attention that even the wardens and administrators at the high-security prison have deserted their posts to view the wonder.
Over the next several days, while Houston and his fellow prisoners languish for want of attention and food and drink, Mom informs her son by phone that people are looting the abandoned UFO for alien technology. In the meantime, the water supply and then electricity are cut off to the prison and Houston endures several days of near starvation and thirst. He becomes concerned for his family’s welfare and worries about his mother. On Day 12 of his continued incarceration when he should have been freed eleven days earlier, Houston receives an unusual visitor in his cell: a man (Jason Karasev) using some of that unusual alien tech materialises in his cell looking for a friend to free …
The plot is entirely driven by dialogue and Brown’s acting, much of it silent. Beneath the youthful tough-talking exterior, Houston is revealed as someone of considerable intelligence and adaptability. While he and his previous lawyers were unable to overturn his initial wrongful conviction, Houston has used his time in jail to turn over a new leaf and improve himself. At the same time his prison experiences have toughened him in a different way from life in the streets, perhaps as a member of a teenage gang, and he does not hesitate to sweep aside conventional notions of morality if it means saving his life or saving the lives of others. Hence, when the stranger keeps reappearing in his cell, clearly unsure of himself (this suggests that he knows that he is doing wrong in trying to free his convicted pal), Houston takes advantage of the stranger’s uncertainty to free himself. He lands in a world at once familiar to him – he sees his family’s home – and yet unfamiliar: the streets are free of crime, traffic and pollution. Clearly the alien technology that has been pilfered from the abandoned UFO above the city has some capacity to see into people’s minds and probe their intentions, and has fulfilled those subconscious desires and instincts in ways unforeseen by the new human owners of the technology.
While the laws of physics might have been broken in this film, the law of morality turns out to be straightforward in spite of its apparent extreme elasticity and malleability. As religious people say, God works His justice in mysterious ways.