When discussing mockumentaries, most people think about This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, and other films that apply documentary-style filmmaking to fictional, comedic situations, often with the actors at least semi-improvising their performances to keep everything organic. Lunopolis takes the exact same techniques, but applies them to a dark science fiction story, combining “found footage” with “expert interviews” to delve into the mysterious “true story” of a “time-traveling secret society that lives on the moon.” It's like Chariots of the Gods, but with a much more interesting conspiracy and some shakey-cam action scenes mixed in. The end result is a surprisingly suspenseful film, with great performances from all the actors and plenty of fascinating theories that will stick with you, despite the fact that they're entirely made up.
Dude, this is the most complicated bong I have ever seen...
Life of the Party (Positives):
The found footage film is one of my favorite moviemaking sub-genres. I was in middle school when Blair Witch Project came out, and even though I watched it on video in broad daylight, rather than in a dark theater, that movie creeped me out like no other horror movie ever had. There’s something about the naturalistic cinematography that immerses you so much more than usual – with a classically-shot movie, the bad thing is obviously happening to some other guy, but when you’re observing the story from that character’s actual perspective, you become a part of the action and experience it much more viscerally. This effect is why Quarantine and Cloverfield are two of my favorite movies as well.
Whereas all those movies used the found-footage style to tell a story about being stalked by monsters, Lunopolis is a little more down to earth (no pun intended), instead using it to add a gritty, organic feel to a classic “men in black” conspiracy story. Although the antagonists are all ordinary people, simply the black-suited agents of the mysterious Church of Lunology (an extremely obvious parallel to Scientology), the filming style and performances help to build a high level of suspense within very mundane circumstances. Early on, the characters explore an abandoned warehouse, and although the only threats are worn out machinery and sinister shadows, the limited perspective of the camera and the natural deliveries of every “wait, what the fuck was that?” makes the sequence surprisingly tense. Later, we get a car-chase that’s ludicrously simple by action-movie standards, and yet you feel far more excitement because you’re watching from the actual backseat of the escaping vehicle. Putting the camera right there as a member of the cast makes the audience feel like one of the heroes, intensifying every emotion in a unique way.
The plot scenes, which are derived from the (fictional) escapades of two independent filmmakers, are then paired with interviews conducted by the (fictional) director of the film. These segments are just like any “ancient mysteries” show you'd see on History Channel, spotlighting a variety of scientists, historians, religious scholars, and UFO theorists, each with their own unique mannerisms and their own books to promote, which was a subtle but very charming touch. While these interviews provide a break from the action, they're also a very natural way to provide required exposition to the audience, supported by artists' renderings in a dark, gritty style that maintains the movie's sinister tone. The fact that Lunopolis looks, sounds, and behaves at all times like an actual documentary makes it far more immersive and engaging than most sci-fi films, which often rely on visual effects more than mood. Although the ideas presented are fantastical, it's still very easy to forget that you're not watching a real documentary.
Potential Hangovers (Negatives):
If anything does kill the immersion and realism of Lunopolis, it would actually be the visual effects - there’s no escaping the fact that this is a lower-budget film, and occasionally that budget does rear its “only after I’d had a few beers” head. Though effects shots are few and far between, most of them stand out as pretty fake-looking, such as a radioactive plot device with a green glow that looks hastily Photoshopped on, and one scene involving a CGI flying car that’s a sublime mix of dramatic and completely ludicrous. Ultimately this is a very minor gripe, as you don’t watch this movie for the sake of its effects, but it is a distraction from the otherwise perfect depiction of supposedly real events.
Moonglish, motherfucker, do you speak it?!
The Vibe – Deep Thoughts, Date Night:
Lunopolis is fantastic for anybody who enjoys conspiracy theories, edgy documentaries, found-footage horror, or just old-school science fiction. Although the big plot twist at the end is kindof easy to predict, the epilogue still gives you plenty to think about afterward, as any good documentary should. This is a movie that can really draw you in, especially if watched in a dark, quiet setting, so it’s best enjoyed either alone or in a small group, and would be perfect for a spooky date night. You won’t want to be very intoxicated for this film, considering that the story is twisty and confusing enough sober, and if you’re too buzzed, you might miss something cool. That said, the drinking game below could be quite fun with the right group of sci-fi/conspiracy buffs, so it’s up to you.
+ Atmospheric found-footage action with totally believable performances and staging
+ Interesting alternate history theories from a colorful “panel of experts”
+ Cool art direction to maintain the bleak and dangerous mood throughout
+ Feels like you’re watching a real documentary about moon-men, as crazy as that sounds
- Low-budget effects can pull you out of the moment by not looking quite real enough
Drinking Game Suggestions:
~Drink every time they say or show anything to do with the moon. You really don’t need any other rules than this, seriously. This script has more Moons in it than a Korean phonebook.
Alex “Philosophic_Al” Lane is a contributor for Tanked Matinee as a sinister means of controlling the global populace on behalf of the Bilderberg Group and their extra-dimensional reptilian overlords. Look for new video reviews from him starting in September 2013.