Man Underground

Thanks to sites like YouTube, anyone with a little basic equipment can post videos to get their message out there. Also thanks to sites like YouTube, it's ridiculously easy to get lost in a sea of videos, both helpful and not, entertaining or just plain alarming. In Man Underground, Willem Koda (George Basil) has exactly this problem -- he keeps trying to let others know The Truth, but he's hardly getting any hits. I think most of us can relate to the frustration of that last part.

The Truth, in this case, is that the feds are hiding the existence of aliens. Willem knows the aliens are real because he's seen one, while working as a geologist for the government. Since that experience he's lived off the grid, barely supporting himself with lecturing fees and convinced that someone will come after him the moment he lets his guard down. He seems to have a fair number of contacts among conspiracy theorists, but only one real friend, the kind, geeky Todd Muckle (Andy Rocco), the nephew of one of Willem's former co-workers.

Todd suggests that maybe what's needed is a different kind of video, something that's less of a lecture and more of a story. He has a camera and editing software, and how hard can it be, right? So Willem churns out a script based on his life, intending to play himself, while Todd gets the part of his Uncle Jack. Now they just need the female lead.

Willem has a habit of eating at a particular diner with doubtful food. He's always sending it back, anyway. But there's a new server at the diner, Flossie (Pamela Fila), a struggling 20-something recently moved back into her parents' home, and she'd love to be an actress. She doesn't quite know what to make of Willem -- few people do -- but before she knows it she's agreed to play the part of his former wife, Tess (Julia Frey), in the movie.

But Willem is literally reenacting the most dramatic moments of his life, and as with most of us, 'dramatic' usually means 'painful'. He has a quiet, earnest way about him that makes you want to believe everything he says, even the most impossible things, but no matter how true or false his story might be, it's affected him deeply. He should be a figure of ridicule, but even Flossie's obnoxious boyfriend Francis (Felix Hagen) can't bring himself to make fun of Williem nearly as much as he seems to want to. George Basil is perfectly cast -- he makes Willem both terribly strange and all too understandable, distant but yearning for acceptance. Beneath the aliens and conspiracies are much more familiar tragedies that he's still trying to face.

Four and a half out of five. It's a wonderfully crafted film, the movie within the movie gradually illuminating Willem's past as it inevitably catches up to him. It's also unsettling to discover the full depths of his paranoia, even as you wonder if it's justified. The filmmakers are an unlikely trio, with Flossie down-to-earth, Willem completely wrapped up in his wild ideas, and Todd not quite at home with either approach. The entire cast does a great job, even down to playing characters that are playing other characters, which can't be easy. But as Willem says, when you gather together people you believe in, anything can happen, and in this case a great movie happened, one that will leave you thinking.

Image: 
Willem and Todd at Flossie's audition. They're all figuring this out as they go.

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