'Man Underground': Film Review
Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine’s debut feature is a low-budget drama concerning conspiracy theories about extraterrestrial contact.
As enduring as accounts of alien contact at places like Area 51 in Nevada or Roswell, New Mexico, remain in the popular imagination, few films have been able to sustain a memorably cinematic premise based solely on scattered rumors about random encounters with bug-eyed extraterrestrials. Lacking even a clear connection to this established branch of UFO folklore however, Man Underground doesn’t succeed any better at establishing evidence of human-alien contact. In fact, those expecting the usual sci-fi trappings like high-tech spacecraft and menacing ETs will likely be disappointed by filmmakers Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine’s far more terrestrial concerns.
Whatever it was that government geologist Willem (George Basil) discovered in the secret military tunnels under construction deep beneath the Nevada desert two decades ago, it left him permanently scarred, both physically and psychologically. Convinced the event was a bona fide alien encounter, he’s been seeking to establish the existence of a vast government cover-up ever since. Now essentially a recluse after retreating to his isolated upstate New York hometown, Willem struggles on alone after his wife walked out on him and the death of his best friend Jack, the only one who shared both the alien encounter and Willem’s convictions regarding government conspiracies.
Only Jack’s nephew Todd (Andy Rocco) provides a sympathetic ear, halfway convinced that Willem may have some revelatory information to share with the world. So he assists by posting videos on YouTube from Willem’s occasional public presentations to other conspiracy geeks, until hitting on the idea of making a low-budget movie dramatizing the events surrounding Willem’s life-changing experiences as a method of popularizing his unusual theories. From the local diner that he frequents, Willem recruits Flossie (Pamela Fila), an aspiring actress, to play his wife Tessa, while Todd takes on the role of his uncle Jack and Willem naturally portrays himself.
The script by Borowiec and Marine is only slightly less rudimentary than the scenario titled “The Alien Truth” that Willem drafts on an old electric typewriter for Todd to direct. More a character study than a sci-fi adventure or paranoid thriller, Man Underground examines the psychological fallout from a defining event rather than the incident itself, as the extent of Willem’s trauma unfolds during the film shoot. Scrupulously avoiding scenes that would require expensive special effects or elaborate sets, the filmmakers employ a straightforward dramatic style, concentrating their efforts on creating believable characters instead.
As the potential target of a wide-ranging government misinformation campaign, Basil (Netflix’s Flaked) projects an adequate degree of paranoia, but never really seems that convinced himself by Willem’s accounts of alien visitation. In fact, Fila’s sympathy for Willem’s evident suffering comes across much more realistically, as Flossie attempts to grasp the depth of his emotional wounds with the help of Rocco’s awkwardly endearing Todd, who provides background on Willem’s elusive campaign for the truth about his mysterious government service.
Production company: Millennium Blonde
Distributor: Indican Pictures
Cast: George Basil, Pamela Fila, Andy Rocco, Felix Hagen, Stephen Girasuolo, Eleanor Hutchins, Christian Jacobs,
Directors-writers: Michael Borowiec, Sam Marine
Producers: Michael Borowiec, Sam Marine, Mohit Jaswal
Director of photography: Maximilian Lewin
Editors: Michael Borowiec, Sam Marine
Music: Zach De Sorbo