I’m only a handful of films in to my screening library for this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, yet already I’m sensing a theme. So far I’ve viewed a number of smaller, quieter indie dramas that pull in fringe elements from multiple genres while spending a fair amount of time gazing intently into their naval. That’s not always a bad thing, given that it leads to minor masterpieces like Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine’s Man Underground.
George Basil stars as Willem, an alien conspiracy touting former geologist who will tell anyone that will listen that the government is covering up the existence of extraterrestrials while silencing anyone who dares to speak the truth. Frustrated by his inability to reach a larger audience, he takes up his friend’s advice to make a movie about his experiences. After recruiting the friendly waitress at the local diner he frequents every day (one where he has earned the enmity of the other waitstaff due to his sending back his food every single time), Willem begins to the the micro budget version of his life story.
Those looking for an exploration of vast government conspiracies or little green men that lurk around every corner will have to look elsewhere. Man Underground tells a much quieter story about three lonely people that find comfort and resolve in one another, and it’s a story that alternates between funny, charming, cringe worthy and ultimate heartbreaking all without breaking much of a sweat. Basil is pretty fantastic as Willem, playing him as an awkward outcast so intent on his singular message that he lacks all social grace and charm, acting like a blunt instrument in every social setting. It’s only through repeated interactions with Flossie, his bubbly lead actress (the charming, lovely Pamela Fila) and the subtle prodding of his lone buddy that Willem comes out ever so slightly from his tightly wound shell.
If there’s a bad guy in Man Underground, it doesn’t come in the form of men in black suits carrying out shady government agendas. Instead, the bad guy wears chinos and popped collar golf shirts and go by the name Francis (Felix Hagen). Francis is Flossie’s boyfriend from New York, and ge takes great pleasure in mocking and embarrassing Willem at every turn. In Hagen’s hands, Francis is the kind of guy that rooted for James Spader’s asshole characters in John Hughes films. He’s an easy character to hate and a great foil for the awkward and neurotic Willem.
Coming away from Man Underground, I was struck with the thought that there are no misfits. What really exists are a number of lost pieces that just need to find their interlocking parts in order to bring out the best in them. While Borowiec and Marine might cast their eyes skyward, it’s not the deeper answers to mysteries they’re most interested in. Instead, it’s the smaller puzzles that exist inside of everyone, looking for the right parts that fit in order to see a clearer picture.