We all probably know somebody like Dennis O’Connor. That sort of crazed aggressive personality eager to jump on you about their theories on 9/11, the Illuminati, and Big Brother. They spend their days huddled in dark corners lit only by the harsh glow of computer monitors. They always have some sort of eye-opening tell-all YouTube video to show you, and are still annoyed that you never clicked on their link to watch Zeitgeist. I mean, Facebook shows that you saw the message, so WHY didn’t you watch it? Huh!?
We dismiss them so easily, lumping them together with the likes of street preachers, schizophrenic homeless people, and that Uncle that nobody invites to family gatherings anymore. But as odd and innocuous as these people may seem, there is always that small flicker of fear burning inside all of us that secretly wonders, what if they’re right? This is but one of the questions raised by Christopher MacBride’s fictional thriller/documentary Conspiracy.
Dennis O’Connor is one of these such people. If he’s not busy setting up his elaborate wall assortment of string, thumb tacks and news clippings, in what he calls his “War Room”, he’s out in busy intersections pounding pavement and attempting to feed truth to a world who would rather grow fat on misinformation. His exploits land him a couple million hits on YouTube, and help garner him the attention of Aaron and Jim, two documentary filmmakers seeking to step inside the mind of your every day conspiracy theorist.
With many horror and thriller films, we find an inner sense of comfort from their inherent fictional aspect that allows us to enjoy them, without taking the fear home with us. For the most part, many of us will never have to fend off werewolves, or baby-snatching Satanists. We don’t flinch at every ring of our phone for fear that Christopher Walken is on the other end ready to give us a deadline to commit murder (although if Mr. Walken would like to call me I promise to answer). With a film like this though, that wall that separates the unlikely from the realistically feasible, is continually shattered. There lives in us all an archetypal fear that our politicians and our governments don’t have our best interests in mind, and a film like this plays to these fears with chilling results.
Initially I was content to just avoid this film altogether. The Fantastic Fest guidebook gave me the impression that Conspiracy was going to be just another entry in a long line of substance lacking found footage films. Yes, Conspiracy does contain its share of found-footage shots. But much like myself, Christopher MacBride is a self-admitted found footage hater, and only chooses to use this technique when the film’s plot absolutely demands it. The bulk of the film is shot in a sort of glossy faux-documentary style that mixes real interviews with those of our fictional characters, the public with paid extras, and the truth with fiction. This constant blurring of lines both narratively and stylistically only helps to imbue this film with a cinematic feel that crushes many of its contemporaries. Even so, the film’s found-footage style climax may be the breaking point for audiences who have already become so disenchanted with the format.
It is so easy for a story like this to become excessively preachy, but MacBride thankfully doesn’t try to sway his audiences one way or the other. Instead he acts as a guide, allowing his viewers to ask their own questions and come to their own conclusions, no matter how uncomfortable they might make us. I see big things for this film over the next year or so. It was probably my biggest surprise discovery of the festival, and it is one that I hope will be shared with you all sooner rather than later.