The Conspiracy (2012)

*. A couple of guys working on a documentary about conspiracy theories find themselves sucked into the granddaddy of all conspiracies, which turns out to be real.
*. That’s the premise, and while not head-spinning it’s a good enough place to start. The problem with The Conspiracy is that the premise is pretty much all there is.
*. Here’s something by way of praise from Dylan Scott: “There isn’t much more here than a killer premise and a memorably creepy finale, but that is one beauty of the found-footage genre: These movies often don’t need much more than that to be successful.”
*. I don’t think I agree, at least completely. I think for a film this formulaic you really do need something more. And I didn’t think there was anything that memorable or creepy about the finale. How many people didn’t know exactly where this was going through every step of its three-act plot? I don’t think for a moment that I’m the most perceptive or knowing moviegoer, but how could you not know that the boys were going to try and crash the Tarsus party, and what was going to happen there? And the way things played out at the ceremony was so obvious it was hard not to feel five minutes ahead of the action. I think that might have been a good thing, giving the proceedings a sense of doom and inevitability, but not to this extent. It’s all fairly predictable.
*. On the other hand, while saying that I don’t think I’m all that perceptive I’ve read a number of reviews of The Conspiracy online that seem to have missed or misunderstood what was going on completely. I sure wasn’t surprised by the sacrifice at the end, but I can understand why Christopher MacBride was upset at the use of the mirror image in the publicity material giving that part away.
*. The Conspiracy isn’t a bad movie. In fact, I liked it quite a bit. I was prepared to go along with its ridiculous premise, and even thought they got away with a real gamble in shooting the final act of the movie with a spyhole camera effect. The blurred faces at the retreat are kind of spooky. The idea of the new (or old) masters of the universe being a Mithraic cult was cute. And there is one twist at the end that actually does a good job of explaining the framing narrative. But . . .
*. Writer-director MacBride mentions how caught up he got doing research for this film, staying up all night watching conspiracy theory movies. I think he meant documentary-style movies which represent the conspiracy theory phenomenon (things like Loose Change or Dark Secrets Inside Bohemian Grove); I don’t think he meant dramatic movies like Conspiracy Theory or the classics of ’70s paranoia like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor.
*. I thought this movie, and in particular its script, needed further development along those lines. Something more interesting going on in the plot or some step forward in the usual found-footage template. Is it supposed to make a difference that these aren’t just a crew of young filmmakers but a crew of young documentary filmmakers? Because it doesn’t.
*. I guess in the end I found The Conspiracy more frustrating than anything else. It’s smart enough that it left me wanting more. The conspiracies mentioned cover all the usual touchstones without suggesting any explanation or connection between them. They’re just stage dressing. What did Tarsus have to do with the JFK assassination or 9/11? If they were involved in these, why? How does the running around in the woods offering sacrifices relate to the founding of a new world order? What is “the” conspiracy?
*. Given the first-person narrative I suppose it’s fair enough that there’s no further explanation. Aaron and Jim never put it all together so why should we? But without something more this is all too much familiar ground. It’s a fine movie for what it does, but I thought an opportunity was missed to do something a little different. If all of these conspiracies are the same in the end, then if you’ve seen one conspiracy you’ve seen them all.

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