Conspiracy theories were once the reserve of the so-called ‘freaks’ of society – the outcasts and loners looking for the fantastical in the mundane. However, with the rise of social media and the exponential increase in popularity of the internet in general, conspiracy theories have become a hot talking point. Gone are the days of freaks and geeks chatting to Louis Theroux about moon landings and crop circles and wearing tin foil hats. From fluoride in the water to keep the population passive, to the earth being controlled by aliens living in its core and even Britain’s Queen being a lizard at the centre of the all-powerful worldwide organisation called the illuminati, people are enamoured by these impossible stories and they are part of popular culture more than ever since stories can spread like wildfire with the instantaneousness of social media. There is a lure of the weird and wonderful so long as you know it is all make believe…

Writer-directors Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine touch upon this in their indie-horror-sci-fi mash up, Man Underground. Reclusive conspiracy theorist Willem [George Basil] enlists his only friend, Todd and a local kooky waitress Flossie from his small town to help him make a low-budget movie about his experience encountering aliens while working as a geologist for the federal government.

We see small snippets of Willem sharing his experiences on Youtube and at seminars and dinner parties. We witness his frustrations at being greeted with child-like excitement for more tales of aliens and sneering side swipes of sceptics who think he is crazy. Willem is jaded and awkward but is still likeable and this is perfectly balanced by his friendship with Todd and new found interest in Flossie. The three of them form an unlikely bond and create the film together, each with a different motive for doing so. Man Underground is not the horror or even sci-fi film about frightening conspiracy theories being proven to be true that I hoped it would be. That said, it’s still an interesting watch.

Willem’s speech in the opening five minutes was a standout piece of dialogue. Not only did it seem very timely given the current political climate of America but also it framed the film as sincere and multi-layered which continued throughout. He dictates over radio to Todd: “The American spirit is fading; like an abandoned lighthouse it offers no hope to those stranded in the dark ocean of despair. What we’ve traded for our forward thinking is social media – indulgence, instant gratification and vanity…no time and respect for visionaries.”

This speech really set the tone of the film for me and what transpires left me feeling sad rather than scared. I’m not entirely convinced that Man Underground will quench the thirst of horror fans.

Viewers are left to wonder if Willem is a conspiracy nut or just suffering some kind of mental breakdown, but we are given at times enough reason to think his story just might be true. We know at least some of it is verifiable, and this doubt makes Willem’s ultimate fate all the more mysterious for the viewer. Whilst this is thought-provoking the ambiguity of the film can be a little frustrating particularly so if viewers are expecting a horror or sci-fi flick.

There is no resolution or concrete truths much like the conspiracy stories that circulate in the real world but this makes the film feel a little stunted.

Man Underground kept me captivated but this was largely due to the intricate character development of the three main protagonists and their visceral connections on screen and ultimately I was waiting for verification and vindication which just never delivered.  In many ways it seems to be a film that is trying to say a lot by doing very little. The premise for this is there and there are some glimmering moments of great indie film making but it most often misses the mark. A great effort for a directorial debut by Borowiec and Marine.

 

Horror Channel Frightfest review: Man Underground
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About The Author

Emily Stockham

Emily is from South London and has a degree in English Literature. Emily is a marketing assistant who writes about films and music in her spare time. Horror and grindhouse are her thing - although she will happily watch anything if it means a trip to the cinema.