The Canadian made thriller The Conspiracy is an engaging and imaginative odd duck. Starting out as a mockumentary blending actual looks at conspiracy theories grafted onto a fictionalized story played out by actors and then giving way to a subtler low budget kind of found footage film, Christopher MacBride has assembled a film that on paper sound tough to describe and even tougher to make it work, but there’s no mistaking that what he’s come up with is an undeniably fresh spin on several stale genres at once.
Actors Aaron Poole and Jim Gilbert play themselves as a pair of documentarians looking into the lives of people who believe that secret societies like the Freemasons and the Illuminati are running the world from behind the scenes and out of sight. The duo become intrigued by a subject named Terrance (Alan C. Peterson) who speaks of a group of wealthy string pullers known as The Taurus Club. Their curiosity is piqued to say the least when Terrance goes missing and his apartment gets ransacked. Aaron picks up where Terrance left off, finding a pattern and wanting to pursue it, but the more cautious Jim – who has a wife and kid to think about – thinks they should back off.
Blurring the line between reality and fiction is never easy especially given the genres MacBride has chosen to work within, but there’s something equally primal and cinematic in this low budget production. For the first two thirds, the film is a droll look at the unmaking of a documentary. Poole and Gilbert’s film is coming apart at the seams without them fully realizing it, but only the audience (who has been paying attention to everything that happens hopefully) seems privy to the fact the duo could be getting played by their very subjects at any point. The very organization they are profiling has it in their best interests to let a little bit of the truth out to instil fear into the public, but in their roles as objective documentarians, Poole and Gilbert aren’t allowed to make such judgments. MacBride cleverly leaves all of the clues as to where his film ultimately heads in plain sight, but the joy of the first two thirds lies in seeing if the characters can figure it out for themselves.
Then, instead of tacking on a simple whizbang stinger at the end, MacBride switches up the game further and changing the film entirely by making most of the final third into grainy and quite ballsy first person accounts of the on screen filmmakers infiltrating a secret society. There’s a lot of purposeful obfuscation and it’s dark and gritty just to look at, but it also lasts for quite a while without every being boring or dull. By this point in the film the stakes are so widely known to the audience, the horrific atmosphere that arises feels earned and not merely tacked on as a late in the game gimmick. It will be the section of the film most widely nitpicked to death by some – as many films in the “found footage” genre often are, but the pay off is pretty great. It’s also worth sticking around through the credits, not because anything is going to happen at the end of them, but for clever little nods that kind of play with the notion of what the viewer had just witnessed.
Conspiracy thrillers are always a tough sell, mostly because of how silly they often sound on the surface, but this genre mash-up makes for some great counter programming this summer for local audiences looking for something just a little bit different. It will stick around in the memory of the viewer long after its over, but not because of shocking moments but because it actually bothers to be thoughtful instead of bludgeoning or tongue-in-cheek.