Sep 20, 2011

REVIEW: LUNOPOLIS


While I am a sucker for found footage/mock documentary horror films, too often fledgling filmmakers jump on this bandwagon to make a movie with next to no budget, all the while forgetting they’re supposed to put some thought into the actual story to make it compelling.

Admittedly, when Lunopolis began, I was intrigued, but at the same time, wondered if the movie was about to fall off the rails at any moment, as is so often the case with low budget genre pictures. The setup was, again, intriguing, but seemingly rather simple: a group of guys and a camera crew checking out a creepy boathouse. What would happen next? Would they become trapped within and threatened by alien monsters? Would they somehow be separated and have only their cameras to survive against their adversary? That’s what I was expecting, and I was very pleasantly wrong.

Instead, our characters find a strange object and are chased out of the place by an even stranger figure (in a very well executed sequence). What this strange object is our characters do not know, but when one of them slips it onto their shoulders (the object itself is some kind of harness), flips the switch, and vanishes into thin air for a microsecond before reappearing, they know they have something special in their possession. The true investigation begins.


Lunopolis is clearly satire on the Church of Scientology, and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard (the religion within the film is called the Church of Lunology, and founded by J. Ari Hilliard), but if it were that and only that, it still could have worked as a film…just in a different way. But Lunopolis goes even further to inject actual thought into the proceedings, and I’ll go as far to say that it’s one of the most intelligently-written low-budget sci-fi films that I’ve ever seen. It’s a striking combination of The X-Files, Asimov, The Butterfly Effect, and Michael Moore investigatory journalism, and it works.

The film consistently maintains the “guys with a camera” aesthetic until meeting a man named David James (Dave Potter), who seems to know an awful lot about Lunology and its founder. And this is where the movie is at its most fascinating and dumbfounding. For the next ten to fifteen minutes, we step out of the first person POV and into a sequence that would not look at all out of place on The History Channel. To attempt to recreate the explanation would be near impossible, so I will instead say this: you’ll never look at Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Elvis the same ever again.


The movie ends with a twist that you may or may not see coming, which frankly doesn’t even matter—the story is so well-told and the twist so appropriate to the story that all it does is lend credence to the theories of Lunology and its potential dangers.

The acting is consistently believable, and in the case of Dave Potter, quite effective. He is a heavy presence whenever on screen, and his performance perfectly captures fear, conflict, and regret.

Alas, like any low budget genre film, there are problems. Some of the antagonists who run around in suits and sunglasses straddle that thin line between threatening and silly. There are some pacing issues, mainly in the beginning of the film. Of the few scenes containing visual effects, one of them involving a car just doesn't work. Lastly (and this is more of a marketing thing) that tagline, "There are people on the moon, they're from the future, and they changed history," is unforgivably cheesy.

Despite these very minor quibbles (and they are minor), Lunopolis is more than worth your time.

It’s a damn shame that a movie as intelligent as this one is reduced to festival screenings and DVD, whereas garbage like Apollo 18 receives a wide release (and little critic support). Like all things deserving, I’m sure the movie will gradually find its audience.

GRADE: A-


Lunopolis hits video October 11.



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