Man Underground brings a smattering of science fiction to this year’s Fantasia film festival. In it Willem Koda (George Basil) is a quite, well-mannered, slightly eccentric ex-geologist who spends his time hosting seminars about alien encounters. Specifically the truth behind the US Government’s involvement with alien imprisonment. After realising that his seminars aren’t getting the message across he decides to make a film based on his own experiences. He enlists the help of his only friend, well… acquaintance, Todd (Andy Rocco) and new waitress Flossie (Pamela Fila). Along the way the trio form a close bond, but questions regarding the validity of Willem’s story throw the production into turmoil.
Man Underground is an enjoyable watch, the film deftly straddling the line between drama and comedy. Films that feature lead characters making their own films often have a strong edge of comedy. In many cases this is pushed too far and the film comes across as more of a spoof or parody. Man Underground skirts this with the comedy coming from a brief exchange of words or simply a subtle facial expression or gesture.
Basil is wonderful as Willem. Socially awkward and to the point, he’s a heavily restrained Sheldon Cooper minus the silliness. He’s a character that the audience warm to, but only so far. Basil manages to convey so much in just a look and brings a lot of humour and humanity to the role. He feels like a rounded person and not just some two dimensional stock character. There’s a dinner party scene where Willem recounts his encounter to a gathering of Flossie’s peers and the story is so captivating, Basil’s performance so strong, that unlike the guests you totally believe in what he is saying.
Both of Basil’s co-stars, Fila and Rocco, also deserve a mention. Fila’s Flossie is instantly likeable and recognisable. She’s a young woman who despite being in her early twenties, still hasn’t got her life fully figured out. We’ve all been through that journey at some time or another. Showing a kindness not shared by her work colleagues she makes an effort to connect with Willem and gains a new and more supportive social circle in return. Rocco brings a lot of warmth to the role of Todd, the perpetual ‘geeky’ outsider. It’s when these two are on screen together that the film really feels alive. The pair inhabiting their characters to the point wherein they feel real.
Those expecting an X-Files cover-up conspiracy, complete with shadowy officials should probably give this film a skip. Man Underground is less about supposed cover-up and more about three outsiders joining together to create something special. It’s a film that sums up the hardships of adult relationships beautifully. The conspiracy is much more of a sub-plot or catalyst point for our story to begin.
A movie that feels truly independent, free of studio restraints and agendas, Man Underground, much like its lead, is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve. An interesting feature debut for directing duo Sam Marine and Michael Borowiec, Man Underground is a quirky character driven drama with a sprinkling of science fiction.
Man Underground screens as part of 2016’s Fantasia International Film Festival programme.
Find all our of Fantasia 2016 coverage here.