“The Conspiracy” is the feature debut for Christopher MacBride, and if nothing else, it gives the young director the chance to work in several different filming styles. The film jumps between documentary and the more popular found footage format, and it makes for a taut, often effective thriller that sometimes gets a bit too caught up in its own bluster.
Documentary filmmakers Aaron (Aaron Poole) and James (Jim Gilbert) are making a documentary about Terrance (Alan C. Peterson), a notable conspiracy theorist who can usually be found ranting into a megaphone at busy intersections. When Terrance disappears, Aaron and Jim start recreating his findings, and end up disappearing down a dangerous rabbit hole of secret societies and government cover-ups.
MacBride stages the film as the team’s final documentary, and loads it with goofy conspiracy theories to begin. “The Conspiracy” asks some very big questions through Terrance’s rants, and it’s hard to take the film seriously as times as it starts to sound like it believes the paranoia of a character that’s portrayed as mentally unstable.
Once Terrance disappears, the film picks up in intensity, and its final third is a brilliantly conceived, truly terrifying stretch of cinema. Without giving away too much, our heroes wind up way over their heads, and it’s a finale that’s consistently disorienting and wonderfully effective. Unfortunately, it’s hobbled by the choice to use lapel cameras that seriously restrict the audience’s line of sight, making the most visually compelling section of the film also its most frustrating. Even so, it’s a fundamentally flawed but consistently engaging and structurally clever work.
‘The Conspiracy” screens at 2:55 on Tuesday, 9/25.
The gritty cop drama is no stranger to the Fantastic Fest program, and this year, “Unit 7” joins films like “No Rest for the Wicked” and “Paris by Night” in representing the genre. Taking place in Seville, Spain, “Unit 7” tracks one brutally efficient unit’s quest to clean up the streets in time for the 1992 World Expo Fair. Rookie cop Angel (Mario Casas) joins up with grizzled veteran Rafael (Antonio de la Torre), and the two lead a team that pushes the boundaries of the law while enforcing it in rather spectacular fashion.
If you’ve seen “The Shield,” or “Training Day,” or any other corrupt cop drama, you more or less know the story of “Unit 7,” but that doesn’t stop the film from being visceral and gripping. Director Alberto Rodriguez captures his action with a kinetic energy that’s infectious, and the film moves at a rapid pace, covering several years in its characters’ lives in a brisk 96 minutes.
“Unit 7” is aided by strong performances from its stars. Angel starts off being shocked by his own brutality, but as his cynicism in his work and his own ballooning ego take precedent, Mario Cases does a great job capturing a man going off the rails. De la Torre is excellent at portraying the tiredness that seems to settle into Rafael’s bones over the course of the film, and his unlikely romance with Lucia (Lucia Guerrero) is a sweet and rewarding detour.
“Unit 7” doesn’t bring anything new to Fantastic Fest, but what it does, it does very, very well. Its particular brand of gritty street justice is captured with confidence and a refreshing interest in the human side of its quasi-villainous protagonists, making for a familiar but enjoyable experience.
“Unit 7” screens again at 5:30 on Monday, 9/24.
Surrealism is usually a cinematic touch that rubs me the wrong way, something about the level of self-indulgence and intentional audience confusion that simply grates on me. But Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors,” a squirmy conceptual oddity, is the exception to that role, a strangely touching but elusive film that works entirely because of its stylistic audacity. Denis Lavant gives a dazzling performance as Oscar, a man who spends his days in a limo, driving between appointments that require him to slip in and out of different lives at a moment’s notice.
Lavant plays a stunning 11 roles, each of them distinct in appearance and demeanor, and it’s fascinating to watch Lavant physically and emotionally transform himself throughout the film. Other actors tend to come and go based on which scenario Oscar is in, and the only constant is Edith Scob, who does warm work as Oscar’s driver. Also worth mentioning is a lovely interlude towards the end of the film where Oscar interacts with a woman played by Kylie Minogue. I didn’t have Minogue pegged as much of an actress, but her work here is unexpectedly tender and tinged with regret, and once it becomes clear why Carax chose Minogue for the small role, it makes for one of “Holy Motors”’ boldest moments.
Director Leos Carax brings astounding amounts of creativity to “Holy Motors,” and each of the different scenarios Oscar finds himself in stands out, if not for concept than for execution. A moment where he works in a motion capture studio is acrobatic and erotic, unabashedly strange, and one of the early scenarios where Oscar transforms into a repugnant sewer creature to kidnap a model (Eva Mendes) is a burst of slimy creativity. A mid-film musical number is also an absolute blast, a great shot to the heart to energize audiences for the rest of the film, and the film’s final scene, which doesn’t feature a single human character, is a surreal little punchline.
“Holy Motors” certainly won’t be a film that everyone enjoys, and even fewer will understand it. There’s an endless number of ways to interpret many of the film’s flourishes, and it’s hard not to see a parallel between the way Oscar experiences the key moments in so many different lives and the very art of cinematic acting, a profession where reality becomes a lie agreed upon by all its participants. No matter how you read it, “Holy Motors” is never boring, driven by Lavant’s excellent performance and the lush, well-rounded direction from Carax, making it one of the most unique films to play the festival so far.
“Holy Motors” screens again at 3:00 on Monday, 9/24.