MAN UNDERGROUND – FANTASIA FEST REVIEW (2016)
Starring George Basil, Pamela Fila and Andy Rocco
Written & Directed by Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine
“A reclusive conspiracy theorist enlists people from his small town to help him make a low-budget over about his experience encountering aliens while working as a geologist for the US government”.
I’m a big fan of conspiracies. Ever since primary school and I can’t really put my finger on why but my guess it was down to The X Files. Soon after I became obsessed with that show (and Gillian Anderson) I started buying Sightings magazine, researching the paranormal…me and a similar-minded classmate would pace the yard while everyone else played football, plotting to sneak out in the middle of the night, go to Nevada (like you do) and break into Area 51.
So I love movies that explore conspiracy theories too, but even more so, those people like me, who are the theorists. There’s just something about a character who believes in the unbelievable, but is doubted by the rest of society. Are they paranoid, or are they right? It always works.
MAN UNDERGROUND follows Willem Koda, as he scrapes by a reclusive living with the help of his only friend Todd, doing small talks about his past experiences and conspiracy theories regarding alien life. Until Todd suggests that in order to get his message across better, they make a no-budget backyard movie. In the hope that it can reach a wider audience. Koda enlists the help of a sweet local waitress named Flossie, but the progress on the film is hampered by Koda’s paranoia and social awkwardness.
Instead of the usual thriller treatment, though, Man Underground goes a more low-key, indie drama route, and to brilliant effect. At least for a pleasant hour or so, we get to know the characters, chuckle at Koda’s awkward interactions with other “normal” people…and then something happens.
Working from a keenly observant and patient script from writer director duo Borowiec and Marine, Basil dominates almost every scene with his self-serious and deadpan Koda. He’s simply magnetic as an intelligent but deeply paranoid and egotistical dude, his eyes telling us so much. As the layers of Koda’s mind and background are peeled back as the film goes on, Basil goes from strength to strength. I can just see them calling “CUT!” on set and Basil still being locked in as Koda, his probing gaze freaking out everyone in set. Rocco is also great as Todd, an outwardly simple guy with a lot of heart, and Fila steals scenes, especially in her audition for Koda’s movie. It reminded me very much of a similarly moving scene in Super 8 but with grown ups.
But all this subtle direction, lived in acting and witty dialogue is all a façade. Because, without spoiling anything obviously, the filmmakers are lulling you into a false sense of security, and deliver a tense, unsettling and ambiguous third act that really sticks with you. And it’s not like it changes genres or anything like that, or even becomes less believable. It’s just a subtle and well-earned change of tone. It’s incredible to watch and really sets Man Underground apart from other mumblecore indies of the same ilk. But you’ll have to take my word for it. I ain’t spoiling shit.
Man Underground is a special little film that knows exactly what it’s doing and exactly what the audience thinks it’s doing, and it’s this commitment to the unexpected, and it’s truthfulness regarding its themes of manners and paranoid, that make it one of the highlights of this year.
Watch the skies…