I waffled a bit on whether I would see Man Underground as part of my Fantasia (International Film Fest) 2016 coverage. There are only so many movies that I can watch in a couple of weeks (i have a day job. and a family. and Pokemon to catch). I worried that it might not quite qualify as horror or that I wouldn’t think it was appropriate to review here. (gotta stay on brand!) But the trailer (have i mentioned that i love trailers?) pushed me over the line into the “might as well give it a shot” column (on my imaginary 2-column list). Having seen it now, I’m definitely comfortable reviewing it here, but I’d hesitate to call it horror. That’s not to say there aren’t scary moments or themes in the film. Because there are. So…
Willem is an alien conspiracy proselytizer. He claims to have had an encounter – a rather traumatic encounter – with an alien whilst digging deep, mysterious tunnels for the U.S. government as a geologist. His account includes a burning green chemical mist, black ops soldiers, loss of consciousness, and (of course) a “creature”. He has been giving talks where he can, but he’s failing to make the impact that he feels he needs to make. His friend, Todd – the nephew of a former colleague who witnessed the event (or at least believed it) – suggests that he tell his story by making a movie. Serendipitously, he meets a kind, young woman, Flossie, who wants to be an actress instead of working at a diner. He writes his story, enlists Flossie to play his (ex)wife, casts Todd as every other character (and cameraman), and begins making the movie. Relationships among the three tangle. Especially, when Flossie’s boyfriend enters the picture. Willem’s singular focus on getting his story out there may be losing ground to his frustrations and depression.
Let me say right off the bat that this is a relationship drama and character study. The relationships of this relationship drama are so familiar, so relatable, that every interaction speaks volumes. We know how each character feels for each other character without being told so. It’s heartbreaking. It’s exciting. It’s realistic. And it defines archetypes (and perceived archetypes) that were established before our ancestors could rightfully be called human, while adding depth and individuality to those well-known characters. The very human interactions among these people happen to be framed by Willem’s story of a horrific otherworldly encounter. And that story looms large over the film. Throughout most of which, the viewer wonders just how sane the man is. He’s certainly paranoid. It is a pretty weird coincidence that his coworkers on the tunneling project are all dead now. But… aliens? Underground aliens that have the technology to talk to the dead? That enigma makes for some genuine mystery and intrigue. It also provides an undercurrent of tension. As Willem’s emotional distance narrows and he bonds with his two friends through the project, their acceptance of his story grows more and more important to him. And it becomes more and more important to the viewer that he isn’t just crazy, or – at the very least – that he has a good reason for believing the story himself. The emotional depth of this intimate indie is impressive. It’s not a perfect film, but it is a good one. And well worth a horror fan’s time. The ending may split viewers but that’s a matter of taste. (i appreciated it)
The Final Cut: Man Underground is a tense character study with a terrifying central mystery. The sparse cast is solid and the central characters are deep and well-fleshed out.