Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Review: Conspiracy Theory

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Conspiracy Theory [aka Lake on Fire]
Directed and edited by Jake Myers
Team Octagon / Ruthless Films / MVD Visual
79 minutes, 2016

The biggest complaint about the recent Paranormal Activity film series (starting in 2007) is not that it’s in the found footage genre, but rather that it takes way too long for anything of interest to happen. Arguably, a similar comment can be made about the granddaddy/-mommy of modern found footage, The Blair Witch Project (1999).

This waaaaaaait for it… aspect has been a key element of found footage since Project, at least. It’s annoying and pointless, and fills out a film to full length when it could have been a very comfortable 20-minute short (or even less). Some recent examples include The Purging Hour (2015) and The Devil’s Forest (2016, aka The Devil Complex). There definitely are ones that are enjoyable, like The Changing of Ben Moore (2015), but they are rare, and more so over time.

Rather than just a bunch of jocks/couples taping for no other reason than to film and accidentally capturing the mysterious whatever, this release has a premise: we meet the film crew to a “reality” cable show on the Mystery Channel called “Alien Engineers,” which posits that many of our modern structures, such as Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead are constructs that use technology given to humans by the “grays.”

Ben Kobold
Leading this fivesome is its host, the heavily orange-skinned spray-tanned Bjorn Eriksson (Ben Kobold), along with the rest being his crew (cameras and sound), including the loony Britney Big Time (Jennifer Mills), the sensible Jamie Bragg (Jamie Mackie), the angry Brian (Brian Schroeck), and non-descript Brock (director Jake Myers). We watch them as they go to the locations I mentioned above, and most of them, well, acting like jerks both while the show is taping, and especially when just filming each other – and in Britney’s case, often herself(ies) while frequently sticking her tongue out.

To begin, let me discuss the good points, because there are a few. First of all, they nail the whole guerilla filmmaking down pretty well, as Bjorn interviews scientists and “man on the street” types, and manages to put words in everyone’s mouths, claiming that they were the ones that said it (reminding me of the more recent Melissa McCarthy SNL Sean Spicer spoofs). Bjorn keeps trying to goad interviewees into saying something controversial that is alien-related; or interrupts often like Charlie Rose, but more to “shock,” like Geraldo Rivera. This is both goofy and enjoyable to watch, as the people squirm, or are often bemused by it all, taking it in good fun.

Which brings me to another decent aspect, which is that there is a fine mixture of real people mixed with fictional characters, and sometimes it’s not always easy to tell one from the other, playing with story’s credibility in a fun way. For example, TD Barnes, who actually worked in Area 51 and has appeared in other films as himself, is questioned, much to his amusement, as Bjorn turns everything he says into something alien. Actors Scott Butler and David Liebe Hart also play themselves in cameos.

The tricky part is many of the other roles are people whose names are very similar to their real ones, such as Andrzej Stratos (played by Andy Seifer), Rizza Villalobos (Rizza Abrera; in case you miss it, the character’s name is “Wolf House”), and Erika Miller (Erika Michaels). My favorite ones are twins Toni and Traci Von Daniken, portrayed by twins Toni Van Laarhoven and Traci Van Laarhoven-Myers (I’m guessing a relation of the director). By the way, I checked, and Erick Von Daniken only had a single daughter, but I don’t know about grandkids. And, of course, there’s the difference between Van and Von.

Jennifer Mills
So, while those points are quite intriguing, ultimately the film fails overall for one basic and nearly constant reason: there is way too much filler crap with nothing to add to the story. For example, I really don’t need or care to see extended scenes of drinking in a hotel room bathroom or on the street, nor the crew gambling at a casino. One of the worst, though, was a third of the way in, as we travel along in a car with the crew while for long minutes Bjorn/Ben and Britney/Jennifer (good thing she’s cute) make up some ridiculous song about butt fisting; in the credits, it’s listed as “Fuck Town.” It’s not the rap per se, but just the sheer waste of time of it all as, again, it does absolutely nothing for the story.

It seems like a large part of the film is mostly a travelogue of home movies that doesn’t really mean or add up to anything, including character development. It’s almost like the crew (who are obviously friends as most have made other films together) wanted to go to Nevada on a trip, and figured if they made some kind of story about it, they could write off the expenses. While they seem to be having fun, it didn’t really transfer well to the audience (okay, to me; I’m not gonna talk for the rest). By the time of the rap, I was getting pissed with all the unnecessary bullshit.

I don’t think it’s going to take a rocket scientist (or extraterrestrial) to figure out by the end, at some point, it’s going to be a case of be careful what you wish for because it may come true. I won’t divulge the final moments, but the general idea is not only easy to figure out, well, just look at the image on the box or watch the trailer fer chrissake.

There is a kind of conspiracy theory going on, but whether it’s by the aliens or humans is left up to the viewer. The last 20 minutes or so are…okay, with about 10 interesting minutes here and there, but by far the best parts of this film are the interviews.

The only extras are the chapters. That’s okay, because I don’t think I would actually want to hear a full length commentary, or a Making Of featurette, since the nearly the entire film is actually the latter. Can we please have a moratorium on found footage now?

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