Lunopolis (2010)

Lunopolis coverI was sent a t-shirt along with my review copy of Lunopolis upon which were printed the words “There are people on the moon. They are from the future. And they run our government.” This is a remarkably concise précis of the plot of this oddball film, and further a useful indicator of its serious style.

It’s a strange fish, it really is. It mixes the shakycam style of JJ Abrams’ Cloverfield (and umpteen other naturalistic films of that style post-Blair Witch Project), the talking heads expert opinion/interview approach of District 9 married to the educational style of a made-for-TV documentary, and the subject matter of fare like The X-Files and the interest in fake-moon-landing and MJ12-style conspiracy theories that exploded into popularity contemporaneously with that show. Stylistically its influences are more recent than its thoroughly 90s thematic material, but style always did go out of fashion quicker than substance. Overall it’s an an odd mish-mash of techniques and these components do work quite well.

The film stumbles a little in how it integrates these disparate styles, tending to clump them together. The film opens with an exciting fifteen minute exploration by independent filmmakers and conspiracy chasers Matt and Sonny (director Matthew Avant and producer Hal Mayor playing almost-themselves) of what appears to be a hidden underground base. It’s a thrilling sequence that sets the mood well. Subsequently the talking heads begin to pop up, alongside scenes where Matt and Sonny dabble with an odd device retrieved from the base and experience run-ins with a mysterious and intimidating group of G-men. The pace is maintained well enough here, too, with the growing sense of mystery proving compelling.

The middle of the film, alas, is choked with exposition; Matt and Sonny meet a man who claims to have escaped from the world’s masters’ base on the moon. He fills in all of the gaps in their knowledge and despite his character’s easy charm there’s a strong sense of the absurd about the information being conveyed, which detracts from the film. Previously the film had drip-fed most of its information, often in a tangential or unexpected way, as in 2004’s superb Primer.

The film does subsequently pick up its pace but, having laid most of its cards on the table, it never really regains the same level of suspense. The conclusion makes up for a lot of this, throwing two unexpected twists at the audience. The first, a plot twist, works nicely, particularly thanks to some skilful foreshadowing, but the second, a character twist, unfortunately recalls the antics of hapless z-movie Timecop and the increasingly tedious doppelganger antics of recent seasons of Fringe.

Happily the writing helps to lend this barmy and convoluted story a strong coherence that keeps the focus keen – infodumps aside. The presence in the film of the Church of Lunology – a growing religious cult supposedly formed by an immortal prophet who intends to fight the despotic efforts of the moon goverment – is presumably intended as a loose satire on Scientology, although it falls short of that through a lack of anything to say other than cults tend to believe in strange things and are often driven by charismatic but troubled leaders. Still, Lunopolis manages to include just about every major conspiracy motif without making them appear forced, and this lends it a sort of textural density that makes it a much more enjoyable experience than it might otherwise have been.

It’s not great SF, alas, despite its love affair with conspiracy mythos. Even a basic understanding of science or political history will have you picking at bobbles in the loose, woolly fabric of the film’s conceit. The best advice here is to switch off the part of your brain that would criticise things like adherence to Great Man Theory or magical moon crystals or time travel paradoxes.

The film’s core cast are another pleasant surprise, offering solid performances that do a great job of lending the film some of the gravitas its premise needs in order to function. The supporting cast is unfortunately weaker. The film features quite a few ‘heavies’ who convey little sense of threat, for example, and the film’s low budget is betrayed most obviously by the lack of wardrobe details like matching suits and standard-issue shades. These suited G-men look more like attendees at a small Californian business conference than agents of a shadowy world conspiracy.

All said Lunopolis is an entertaining piece of film and aside from the saggy Basil Exposition nougat at its centre is a reasonably well-paced film. It’s also thoroughly oddball whilst played dead straight, which is the best way the material could have been handled. If you’ve an affinity for the tall tales of famous conspiracy fare like Atlantis, faked moon landings, shadowy world governments and the like then you’ll find Lunopolis a lot of fun. You may have to work a little to maintain your suspension of disbelief, and you may laugh inappropriately at times, but it’s an independent film with plenty of ambition and the talent to execute most of what it attempts, and that earns it my respect.

Lunopolis website | Media Savant

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