Fantastic Fest Review: THE CONSPIRACY Is A Mixed Bag

The Truther is out there. 

There's something lamentable about the dwindling mockumentary genre, supplanted more and more often by the easier to produce "found footage" genre. Make no mistake: they're not the same thing! Found footage is an effective and cheap way to present a story, and it's a gimmick that's apparently not going away. But films like Series 7 and Interview With The Assassin are great little nuggets of cinematic fakery, carefully mimicking the look, sound, and tone of various non-fiction film styles to present a convincing forgery.

The first hour of The Conspiracy is a great return to that style. It has all the familiar talking head interviews, b-roll and music cues of the kind of earnest, semi-polished documentary effort you'd find on YouTube, or being passed around Facebook walls. That's a great hook, pulling the viewer in right away with its Loose Change-esque urgency. But unfortunately as the narrative unfurls, the film takes a page from The Blair Witch Project, going from carefully edited narrative to full-on found footage horror movie for the film's third act, and the effectiveness of the whole is diminished a bit.

Jim (James Gilbert) and Aaron (Aaron Poole) are making a documentary about Terrance G (Alan C. Peterson), a crazed street prophet who spends his days shouting at passersby about global conspiracies. Terrance has a head full of all the usual paranoid folk tales: elite members of a secret society, captains of industry and heads of government are collaborating behind closed doors to control the world, line their own pockets and slaughter some livestock in an ancient Pagan ritual. The filmmakers cast a cynical eye on Terrance's conspiracy theories, but when he vanishes without a trace, his apartment ransacked, they realize that maybe Terrance wasn't as bonkers as they initially thought, and Aaron takes up Terrance's quest for the truth, slowly spiraling down the same trajectory as his subject.

Going in, one might think that's the film's whole story; instead it's the first 20 minutes. So it's probably on me and my incorrectly calibrated expectations that the film feels as if it rushes past some of the more interesting story beats to get to Aaron's rather sudden and all-encompassing immersion into the world of Truthers. As he starts to absorb Terrance's world view, there's some great re-purposing of news footage and political speeches which will have a segment of the audience thinking maybe Terrance and Aaron are onto something. If you buy into the Truther/Inside Job stuff, this is where the film likely kicks into gear for you. If you're just a sensible film enthusiast, it's where the filmmakers start to slowly surrender the carefully etched faux documentary style, and trade in the ambiguous paranoia for more overt scenes of menace and terror. The result is a mixed bag: in and of itself the climactic showdown in which Aaron and Jim sneak into a meeting of the shadowy Taurus Club is tense and effective, and the film's denouement is pretty solid. The film also has a dry, dark sense of humor, a ball that lesser writing and acting might have dropped. But the film's turn into Eyes Wide Shut territory is a hard one to reconcile.

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