Man Underground (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

manundergroundA conspiracy theorist living in a small North Eastern town removes himself from society more and more after having a visit from aliens on his government job.  As he lives his life as best he can following the loss of his job and of his marriage, he gives talks about aliens to dwindling crowds.  After meeting an actress, he decides to make a film about his life with her and his only friend left.

Co-writers/co-directors Sam Marine and Michael Borowiec work very well together, building a film laced with the lead’s paranoia and showing three sides of what he has to deal with: friendly people who want to help; people wanting to use him as s how; and people who have complete condescension for him.  They build a world where the audience feels for him while understanding where others come from on how they deal with him.  They build a character study of a man who may have lost his mind or not, a man with an absolute conviction in his belief that is unbreakable even if he is.  The way they construct the characters and story pulls the viewer in even if alien conspiracy is not their thing like this reviewer.

The cast of course helps a lot.  George Basil does a phenomenal job in the part of Willem Koda, the alien conspiracy theory at the center of the film.  The way he embodies the character makes him so human and believable.  His portrayal makes Willem the town kook that everyone wants to know more about and care about.  As the actress Willem takes an interest in, Flossie Ferguson, actress Pamela Fila shows that interest and care, bringing the viewer in further as she becomes their stand-in in his life.  The conflict she shows in parts of the film looks genuine like her interest.  Rounding out the great lead cast is Andy Rocco as Todd Muckle, Willem’s best and only friend who stands by him no matter what, even when they don’t agree on everything.  His performance is also spot-on and creates a character everyone can care for and who is a little goofy but with his heart in the right place.

Man Underground is a carefully planned and made film that makes more than the most of its small budget.  From the production design by Amber Cicardo to the art direction she did with costume designer Alexandra Lopez to the music by Zach De Sorbo to the cinematography by Maximilian Lewing, everything looks and sounds like a bigger budget film. It’s a testament to the talent of all involved and to the importance of choosing a great team to work with and stretch your dollars.

Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine craft a great film about a man who wants to be believed, who needs to be believed, a character study of a conspiracy theorist and whose beliefs have affected his life.  Their film is touching while giving a glimpse into the life of someone considered crazy without turning it into a satire or a comedy at the expense of this man.

Fantasia International Film Festival ran from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016 and will be back in the summer of 2017.