DECEMBER 8, 2013
I recently felt guilty about all my "enough found footage!" ranting on Twitter, as I have a few friends with FF movies on the way (two of them I even did credits for!) and it comes off like I'm telling you to avoid them. But that's not true; the fact remains that I will champion the hell out of the GOOD ones, but that people who have no idea what they're doing need to stop clogging the sub-genre with their nonsense, making everyone sick of them as a whole. It's like Rock Band/Guitar Hero; there's nothing wrong with their last games, but there were so many crappy ripoffs and unnecessary spinoff games (Guitar Hero: Van Halen?) that everyone just checked out as a whole. Thankfully, there will still be movies like The Conspiracy, which avoids ghosts and creepy asylums in favor of something a little more interesting.
Indeed, for a while it's not even in the neighborhood of horror; it depicts a pair of guys (Aaron and Jim) who are doing a documentary on Terrance, a conspiracy theorist that is the kind of guy who shouts "9/11 was an inside job!" at passerby from the park and has an apartment wall covered with newspaper clippings that explain how everything is connected. In other words, it's a documentary SOMEONE MIGHT ACTUALLY WANT TO WATCH, unlike about 90% of found footage horror films that start out this way. Anyway, one day Terrance disappears without a trace, and while Jim is happy to just wash his hands of the whole thing, Aaron digs into his disappearance and discovers that the guy might have been on to something, with several signs pointing to a mysterious "Tarsus Group", which is sort of like the Masons crossed with the UN.
Needless to say, the group is pretty sinister, and the last half hour of the film is creepier than most traditionally shot horror movies of late, as our heroes worm their way into a Tarsus group meeting that's not dissimilar to the cult sequence in Eyes Wide Shut. And the first person camera actually adds to it, as both of them are wearing button cams that provide awkward angles on the proceedings while also handily avoiding the "Why are you still filming?" issue. Plus, the documentary aspect means everyone's face has been blurred out, adding to its unsettling nature (though I had to laugh as even though he was blurred out I still recognized Patron Saint of Canadian Horror Julian Richings as one of the group's higher ups).
In fact this stuff works so well that I can forgive some of writer/director Christopher MacBride's missteps with the logic of the camera in the pre-cult scenes. It SEEMS as if they only have one cameraman with them (before they "get too deep" and do the camerawork themselves), but conversations get back and forth cutting, meaning there has to be a second guy shooting. Even when they are tailing a Tarsus member, there are cuts back and forth, making me wonder why they even had ONE extra body with them, let alone the two that would have to be there for the incident to have been shot as depicted. I know it sounds like a nitpicky thing, but it's really not - the whole point of these movies (besides to cash in on a trend) is to give us a character's POV on the proceedings, so if they are constantly switching perspectives, it's leaving the audience at bay. And either way, their cameraman is a non entity, another thing that bugs me - it makes sense for him to be quiet when they're shooting parts of the documentary, but when he keeps shooting after they've finished for the day and are just sort of hanging out, why is he sitting there like a mute? Shouldn't he be "off the clock" and acting like a human being?
But otherwise, I was impressed by how well it was structured, completely turning around at the 30 minute mark or so and then switching again when they crash the meeting. If not for the recognizable actors (Aaron is played by Aaron Poole, from Rosalind Leigh) I could believe that this was an actual blend of reality and fiction, not unlike JT Petty's S&Man. Terrance is spouting off about real world things and namechecking actual politicians, and getting into the nitty gritty about foreign policy and such, which went over my head just as any real conspiracy theorist's rants would. I don't know how much time they spent developing the backstories and such, but I assure you if I just started watching this completely blind (i.e. not knowing it was a horror film) and didn't recognize Poole, I'd be totally duped into believing it was a real thing, at least until they go to the Tarsus lodge. But by then I'm on board and sympathetic toward the characters, so it worked as it should - by the time it became a horror movie, I was invested into the "reality" part of it. Not an easy thing to pull off, and it's a shame more FF films feel the need to make sure we know it's a genre film right off the bat.
It's also got a downer ending that doesn't leave any plot holes. 9 times out of 10 I am left wondering who found this footage (Apollo 18 remains the champ), and with this sort of thing I'd also have to wonder why these all powerful people didn't have it destroyed, but here there's a narrative explanation for its "return". And it's not because it's got a happy ending with everyone surviving - it's actually pretty grim and disturbing, and the fact that there probably IS some variation on the Tarsus group in reality (not THIS far-reaching, I hope) gives it an edge that even the best "ghosts in the mental hospital" faux doc could never manage. It should be hitting DVD soon (it's been released on disc in other countries, and Amazon has it on their streaming service), so keep an eye out for it. Ti West's terrific The Sacrament covers similar territory (in that it fully/realistically establishes its documentary subject before turning scary), but that won't be out for a while - this is a perfect appetizer if you've been waiting for that one.
What say you?