The Conspiracy (2013) Review

The Conspiracy

Conspiracy theories are strange beasts; intoxicatingly convoluted and designed expressly to explain events and phenomena which appear mysterious, secretive or exclusive. The conspiracy theorists’ need to believe in a hidden system of powerful interests controlling and manipulating everything behind the scenes shares belies a fundamental need to believe that there is something more at play in the way life unfolds and, as such, shares many of the same roots as religious beliefs (the main difference being one will get you branded a paranoid madman and the other will get you tax-exempt status).

“The Conspiracy” is a neat little low budget independent Canadian film that uses the clever conceit of a documentary team making a film about a noted conspiracy theorist being drawn into a dangerous game as the conspiracy nut is proved to be right all along. With the modest resources available, the makers do a good job with this horror/ thriller, especially of ramping up the uncertainty, doubt and fear in the first half of the movie. It’s only in the third act you start to really feel the constraints of the budget impacting the storytelling and where it could (and should) have really ramped up the hedonism, ritualism and terror of the secret society’s gathering, it has to pull its punches and keep things simple and poorly lit for fear of revealing that it’s all filmed at a local three-star hotel. The end result is an uneven denouement where, instead of stepping fully from thriller into horror, it pulls back from the brink but the potential is clearly there and with more resources, this could have been something a bit special.

As with all ‘found footage’ films, sometimes the reasons for filming certain scenes don’t stand up to close scrutiny but the documentary film aspect gives most of it a veneer of plausibility. Alan C Peterson is great as documentary subject Terrance, a vocal and active conspiracy ‘nut’ whose mysterious disappearance leads the documentary team through the looking glass. Leads Aaron Poole and James Gilbert are pretty good as the two documentary filmmakers who get reluctantly sucked into the obsessive world of conspiracy theories. Occasionally they’re a little hammy, but I’m willing to chalk that up to the tight budget preventing the luxury of multiple takes and writer/ director Christopher MacBride does a great job of keeping everything moving fast enough that you don’t really notice where corners are being cut to stay on budget. The fictional ‘villains’ of the piece (or are they?) – The Tarsus Club – are fleshed out quite well and the coda where official representatives from Tarsus discuss the allegations of the film is perhaps the most chillingly authentic moment of the film. Explaining away the club’s purpose and intent with benign sound bites and friendly grins they immediately recall a line from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: ‘Where we are, There’s daggers in men’s smiles’. By integrating real-world interviews with believers and experts, the film cleverly keeps you off balance enough that no matter how sceptical you may be, you’ll be unable to totally shake off the feeling the film may have some truth in it.

More credibly frightening, and arguably more cohesive, than ‘The Blair Witch Project’, “The Conspiracy” is one of those hidden gems that you occasionally stumble across on Netflix and is well worth checking out. Despite its limitations, it’s a smart and engaging thriller that will stick in your mind long after it’s finished.

Score 6