Fantasia Fest Review: MAN UNDERGROUND Just Barely Makes It To The Surface

A likable film about an unlikable man.

Is it bold or lazy when a film focused on a central binary mystery refuses to supply a resolution, offering instead equal evidence in favor of both possible outcomes and leaving it for the audience to decide which they prefer? If you think it’s bold, Man Underground is probably for you. If you think it’s lazy, you still might find something to like in this gentle, warm, and easy going movie about a man who is neither gentle, warm, or easy going.

Actually, Man Underground’s protagonist, Willem Koda, is kind of a dick. Under the umbrella of a stiff, scientific mind, the specter of past trauma, and a buried but sail-present yearning for human connection, Willem is a hard guy to be around for 90 minutes. He’s picky, he’s tense, he’s volatile; even when he’s trying to be his kindest, he sounds harsh and angry. And yet somehow he’s surrounded by people who care about him a great deal, which makes his snippy treatment of them (which is never born out of malice) hard to put up with.

Willem is an ex-geologist who gives speeches and runs a YouTube channel dedicated to alien conspiracies. He believes the government actually has a whole race of alien slaves working far underground. He claims to have seen these aliens while working on some tunnels for the government years ago. Everyone who was with him that day is now dead (of things like cancer), and Willem believes he could be next.

Meanwhile, no one is coming to Willem’s speeches or watching his YouTube channel. So at the suggestion of his extremely understanding and patient friend, he decides to spice up his story by recreating it as a movie. This brings Flossie, a small town girl with a big heart, into his life. The three begin making a movie together which explores aspects of Willem’s life he’d probably just as soon forget.

Ultimately, the film is a drama, perhaps even a mild tragedy, but with a gentle enough tone to make the whole thing very easy to watch. Furthermore, the filmmaking scenes, with their reliance on iffy acting and amateur camerawork, slide hard into light comedy territory, though I am unsure how intentional that is.

Man Underground shot for seventeen days with a budget of only $35,000. For that money and time, it looks amazing, and goes far solely on the charm of its surprisingly capable four-person cast. It’s a small and quiet film that, as I mentioned above, leaves you to answer the main questions brought up by its plot yourself, even if you would prefer to just be told. I know where I stand on how it all ends, but you might have a completely different answer. Either way, Man Underground supplies a new approach to the oft-told story of a man who just doesn’t seem made for the world around him and can’t figure out how to deal with it.