Premiering last week at the prestigious Fantasia Film Festival, Writer/Directors Michael Borowiec’ & Sam Marine’ Man Underground is an interesting, but ultimately odd bird. I describe it as such, because it definitely isn’t what you think it’s gonna be – despite its intriguingly strange poster art. While some (If not most) of you will be expecting some sort of “Aliens Exposed As Real” type of story, in reality what this sweet little film is about is the changing relationship between three friends. A relationship that just happens to be wrapped around a subplot involving those friends making a documentary film about the experiences one of them had while encountering aliens as he worked for the government.
Willem Koda (George Basil) lives a fairly solitary life. Once a geologist working for the government, he now spends his days going from one poorly attended event to another, speaking on his theories regarding a UFO conspiracy. He isn’t paid well, his events aren’t very well attended, and his notions do lean towards the nuttier side of conspiracy theories, but he’s not a bad guy. When he’s done travelling from his gigs and returns to his sparsely decorated (but neat) home, he finds some solace in his YouTube channel and his favorite spot to eat, a quiet little diner where he can eat without being disturbed. He does have one friend, Todd Muckle (Andy Rocco), who helps out by uploading new videos to YouTube for Willem when he’s out on one of his lecture tours.
During one of his diner visits, Willem meets new waitress Flossie (Pamela Fila), a woman who’s basically in the same boat he’s in. She does have a asshat for a boyfriend, but she’s lonely. After some nicely parsed back & forth between the two of them, a decision is made to create a documentary detailing Willem’s life. One that would detail what he believes to be true about UFO’s and hopefully get people to understand his message. The duo enlist Todd to help out in their new project, but as production on the film begins, Todd begins to fall in love with Flossie. Additionally, Willem begins to think that the story he’s telling might be making him look/sound like a loon – and it turns out that there might be some people that aren’t too pleased with the content the amateur film makers are committing to film.
If you didn’t understand what I was trying to tell you earlier, let me rephrase my words for you. Man Underground isn’t what I’d consider to be a film that I’d see at a genre film festival. In my estimation, it’d fit much better at the Sundance Film Festival, where slow paced, character driven films are the norm. This isn’t to say that it isn’t a good film, far from it. Man Underground is an engaging, endearing, and ultimately engrossing little character study about three misfits trying to make a name for themselves in the only way they know how. It isn’t an action film, there are no grand set pieces with cars flying into alien spacecraft, while our shirtless hero bravely fights off an alien horde armed with only a spatula. Borowiec & Marine’ tidy little script isn’t shooting for any of that nonsense. They’d rather try to get into the heads of their 3 main characters, and see what makes them tick. Character motivations play a big role in this film, and despite it’s trappings – it’s content to remain a slow paced, character driven story that might turn off anyone who goes to see it expecting something a bit more grandiose.
As a matter of fact, I rather enjoyed Man Underground despite its lack of fire and brimstone. It certainly isn’t what I was expecting to see, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The acting is top notch, with Basil, Fila & Rocco turning in honest and believable performances. Basil in particular gives his characterization of Willem layers that slowly peel away until we witness his ultimate fate (which I won’t spoil here). There’s a genuine sense of pathos that develops over Willem as the film moves forward, one that makes that unspoken fate of his especially morose – yet in a sense, fitting. Fila gives Flossie a genuine sweetness that’s infectious, and Rocco lends a nice sense of humor to the proceedings as Todd, and all secondary characters are well cast and help move the proceedings along in a slow, but enjoyably slow manner.
There’s not much more that I can say about this film without spoiling it. Suffice it to say that if you’re expecting anything like the odd poster art depicts, you’re gonna be disappointed. If you’re expecting an action filled Sci-Fi film about a conspiracy theorist that gets to close to the truth and has to be snuffed out by some secretive government agency, you’re gonna be disappointed. If you’re expecting anything like your typical Sci-Fi adventure, filled with spaceships, aliens and explosions – you’re gonna be disappointed. But if you decide to give Man Underground a watch, you might find yourself surprised by the genuine performances, and the smooth, confident directorial style of Borowiec and Marine. This is their first feature film, and while it certainly isn’t a barn burner, it’s not supposed to be. It’s a gentle & carefully developed story of three friends, and the time they spend together while trying to create something special, and I’m seriously looking forward to whatever these talented young men have planned for their next feature.
You might be disappointed at first, but give Man Underground a chance to work its magic on you, and you’ll realize that there are far worse ways to spend 90 minutes.
Man Underground (3.5 / 5)