Fantastic Fest 2012: ‘The Conspiracy’ – clever filmmaking, continuously surprising

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The Conspiracy
Directed by Christopher MacBride
Screenplay by Christopher MacBride
2012, Canada

Though it boasts a fictional storyline and plenty of fabricated found footage, The Conspiracy is fascinated with the earnest yet untenable obsession of the real conspiracy theorist. Ostensibly a straight-faced mockumentary about two filmmakers (Aaron Poole and Jim Gilbert) interviewing local conspiracy theorist Terrance G. (Alan C. Peterson), the opening third of The Conspiracy is Christopher MacBride’s sounding board for popular real-world conspiracies. The audience is inundated with speculation about 9/11, the JFK assassination, massive surveillance operations, and the New World Order–all presented with respect but objective detachment by MacBride.

This allows for the necessary introduction into the film’s world, but MacBride also draws the viewer into the frenzied mindset of conspiracy theorists. Whether you are a believer or not (and it’s unclear where exactly MacBride stands), it is nonetheless fascinating and rewarding to imagine the world that exists above and behind our own, providing its own sinister will in place of tragic chaos. And once it’s tapped into that reservoir of paranoia and awe, the film pretty much has your rapt attention.

In the process of filming the doc, Jim and Aaron discover that Terrance has gone missing. After finding his apartment ransacked, Aaron logically gathers the clippings and items of interest from Terrance’s conspiracy board and recreates it at home. At first seeming to be a collection of random and disconnected events and legislations, Aaron quickly discovers the through-line that Terrance had been plotting. As he descends into conspiratorial lunacy, Jim begins questioning the continued investigation. But the evidence stacks up and, with the help of the mysterious Mark Tucker (Bruce Clayton), the two launch a dangerous caper. The acting here is naturalistic and by and large seamless with a fantastic gallery of characters.

The first half, even with its wild postulating, is recognizable, by-the-numbers documentary filmmaking. It’s convincing and interesting, but also totally routine. In the second half, though, MacBride crafts a tense and taut found-footage thriller that uses its format unexpectedly well. It’s a surprising turn that’s not only exciting but begins to undermine the assumed nature of the film and reveal its hidden complexity. It’s impossible to describe what exactly Macbride does here without spoiling the fun, but suffice it to say this is very clever filmmaking that knows exactly how to toy with with its audience.

-Emmet Duff

Fantastic Fest runs September 20th – September 27th.

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