In the spring of 2017, hundreds of people flocked to an exclusive luxury rock festival in the Bahamas that promised great music, modern seaside accommodations, five-star food and parties with supermodels and social media trend-setters on the beach. Instead of Fantasy Island, however, patrons found themselves in a post-apocalyptic Road Warrior setting of soaking wet FEMA tents, scant bathrooms, food and water, no music and a staff that had no clue. Director Chris Smith beautifully tells the story of this disaster, from its shady origins to its astounding aftermath, in his excellent documentary Fyre.
Imagine an avalanche that builds into a massive snowball and crushes everything in its path until a meteor joins it and becomes a radioactive ball of fire that completely annihilates everything standing in its way. That’s Billy McFarland, a young “entrepreneur” who sold his festival concept to investors, employees, and consumers on a George W. Bush-level combination of lies, ignorance, and incompetence. Is he completely delusional or a brilliant con man looking to swindle millions by any means possible? It’s hard to tell, and Smith brilliantly uses the stories from his subjects to create a multi-faceted, unpredictable villain who refused to give up even after such an epic failure.
“…soaking wet FEMA tents, scant bathrooms, food and water, no music and a staff that had no clue.”
Smith also keeps the intensity level in the red. Mind-blowing revelations follow each other in such close succession that you think there’s absolutely no way it can get any worse, only it does, and then gets worse than that and on and on until you can only sit and watch with your mouth agape because it doesn’t stop. Bernie Madoff? He’s an altar boy in comparison.
Interestingly, the festival attendees don’t come off much better. Rather than band together to get through the awful situation before them, they turned on each other and hoarded what supplies they could find. One patron boasts of destroying tents and pissing on mattresses because he and his group of friends didn’t want neighbors. It just goes to show that no matter how much money you have, you’re still an animal in the face of adversity.
“…not only intellectually stimulating, but visually as well.”
Documentaries by nature are utilitarian, telling a story from real events as they happen with little expectation of aesthetic value. Once again, Smith ups the ante, delivering a film that is not only intellectually stimulating but visually as well. To be fair, McFarland’s narcissism drove him to document everything he did on camera, and he hired excellent crews to do it, but Smith plays off of this and frames his talking head interviews with the eye of an artist, elevating the film far beyond what it needed to be to tell the story.
Recent interest in the likes of Madoff and Lehman Brothers has created a curious subgenre of white-collar horror, i.e., frightening stories of swindlers and con men who happily destroyed lives to benefit themselves. Fyre emerges at the forefront of this wave, setting the bar by which all other films will be compared. More importantly, it’s a cautionary tale of the destruction that comes when a dishonest megalomaniac sells a bullshit dream to a gullible group. Think of that when you turn on the news tomorrow.
Fyre (2019) Directed by Chris Smith. Written by Chris Smith. Starring Billy McFarland, Ja Rule, Grant Margolin, MDavid Low, Marc Weinstein, Shiyuan Deng, Andy King, Samuel Krost and Gabrielle Bluestone.
10 out of 10 stars