Alien and UFO conspiracies, social outcasts, and artistic dreams are a few of the elements at play in the amusing, big-hearted, and decidedly offbeat science-fiction-tinged dramedy Man Underground (Canada, 2016). Cowritten and codirected by Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine, this genre-blending film is full of independent spirit.
Willem Koda (George Basil) is a former geologist for the U.S. government who now gives sparsely attended lectures and uploads YouTube videos about his alien conspiracy theories. This paranoid individual meets a new waitress named Flossie Ferguson (Pamela Fila) at the small-town diner that he frequents. She is a rather outgoing type with a personality quite unlike Willem’s distrusting, withdrawn one. They strike up an unlikely relationship in which Willem asks Flossie to star in a fictional film about his life that his socially awkward friend Todd Muckle (Andy Rocco) suggested making.
The trio begins filming the movie and different emotions start to stir in each character. Relationships form and change as their work continues. This is the true heart of Man Underground, and Borowiec and Marine capture the inner journeys of these characters beautifully. Their beautifully written screenplay boasts smart dialogue and their characters feel like real people. The trio’s musings about life, each other, and dreams both active and crushed ring true.
Basil is terrific as the troubled Willem, who is convinced that the government is trying to cover up what it knows about UFOs and aliens on Earth. He seems to come from what many would consider a rather normal past but fate thrust him on a different past. Fila breathes wonderful life into Flossie, a young woman who finds herself drifting between a life that she cannot afford in the big city with smarmy, arrogant boyfriend Francis (Felix Hagen in an impressive turn) and moving back in with her parents in the trio’s small town. Rocco as Todd, a social misfit who goes to therapy sessions and really wouldn’t mind “fitting in” if he could figure out how, anchors the proceedings marvelously and shows some fine comic timing. Alex Watt also gives a likeable performance as the quirky Shack, Francis’s roommate.
Speaking of comedy, Man Underground boasts a good share of funny moments. Most aren’t laugh-out-loud jokes, as Borowiec and Marine strive for subtler humor. Sometimes merely a slight change in facial expression or an awkward instant offer amusing moments.
Man Underground also serves up impactful drama. One of the more tense scenes occurs during a party thrown by Flossie’s boyfriend. Francis and Willem already have a strained relationship, and Francis attempts to make Willem look foolish in front of Flossie and the guests. A menacing tone pervades, making for one of my favorite scenes in the film.
Readers should note that, despite its science fiction elements, Man Underground isn’t out to impress with special effects or thrilling set pieces, though there are moments that will make some viewers gasp, at the very least. The film follows the journeys of its three main characters as they go through emotional and psychological changes brought on by their newly formed relationships. I found myself emotionally invested in each member of the trio and I was fully engaged in their story together.
Man Underground is an unusual motion picture that I highly recommend. Watch for it as it currently makes its way on the film festival circuit.