When it comes to YouTube conspiracy theories I believe they are all bullshit. Yes all of them. Odds are very good that if Michelle Obama is actually a lizard person, some nut-job recording in between working shifts at the local Arby’s from his Mom’s basement isn’t the type of person who would crack that case. Now a shift manager from Arby’s on the other just might have the gusto to bring down the Obama/lizard people hybrids that are bringing down this great nation… Woah! I suddenly understand and completely identify with these YouTube whack-jobs and I have the ever consuming need to start my own channel that proves JFK was assassinated by the time traveling alien mafia. My life is now filled with purpose and I have a platform that allows me to say whatever I want to potential endless amounts of viewers with almost zero consequences! It all makes sense now! It is weird to think that the people behind most of these videos are in fact, people. When not filling the world with half cocked theories they have day-to-day lives. Directors Sam Marine and Michael Borowiec apparently went through the very same mental process I just did and came to a similar conclusion and deliver a movie that shows us that UFO conspiracy theorist are people too… but still slightly off.
Willem (George Basil) is a UFO conspiracy theorist who is seeing a dip in his internet traffic. After his close (and only) friend Todd (Andy Rocco) suggests adapting his story to film to help boost numbers, Willem sets off to make the film telling the story of his encounters with an alien life form while working for the government. After meeting waitress/inspiring actress Flossie (Pamela Fila) Willem convinces her to join the production and star in the movie. What starts as a fun, quirky project eventually begins to effect Willem and the strain starts to negatively impact Willem’s life.
Man Underground is not so-much a genre movie, but more of a dramedy. Until the last act I was convinced I was waist deep in an off-beat romantic comedy about Willem and Flossie falling in love. Flossie even had a jerk boyfriend who sees Willem as nothing more than a walking punchline. Honestly, I am not a fan of romantic comedies, but here it works. The characters are more than walking clichés (as is the case with most romantic comedies) and are doing more than just trying to get into each others pants. It’s compelling and you start to feel sympathy for Willem. He’s an awkward, timid man, who carries a great sadness around with him. George Basil creates a character that I found off-putting in an endearing way. He obviously has suffered from hardships or trauma in his life, could be aliens or could be something else. Marine and Bororwiec sprinkle in just enough back story to keep things vague and honestly this is always the best course of action. No good conspiracy theory can be proven. If it was it would just be a fact and how boring are those things?
I would love to say that Man Underground is an indie gem and is destined for greatness, but sadly there is one huge downfall: the ending. I will give no spoilers here, but the abruptness and non-resolution is maddening. Marine and Borowiec (who also wrote the movie) created characters and story I was fully engaged in. They lead me down a path and I was along for the ride to only be kicked out of the car right before hitting our destination. I don’t mind open-ended finales, but this feels less open-ended and more my screening was missing the last 5 minutes. Not looking for everything to be explained, but closure on these characters would help round things out.
Sam Marine and Michael Borowiec have created a compelling story with interesting characters that revolve around a subject matter rarely tackled. Supported by a cast who deliver some strong performances. Although the movie within a movie approach has been done (many, many times) it’s only used as a plot device here. Even though they couldn’t quite get it past the finish line, I still enjoyed the ride.
Man Underground is currently screening at Fantasia Film Festival.