Christopher MacBride’s mockumentary The Conspiracy follows two documentary filmmakers, Jim (Jim Gilbert) and Aaron (Aaron Poole), as they set out to make a film on conspiracy theorists. Starting with a local street screamer conspiracy theorist named “Terrance G,” the duo begin their project with an appropriate amount of personal and professional distance from their subject. As Terrance explains, when asked why there aren’t more people as aware of the secret conspiracies surrounding our everyday lives, “It’s easy to turn you into me, but you don’t want to be me.”
When Terrance goes missing for a month and his place is ransacked, Jim and Aaron find themselves more involved than they originally intended. While Jim has a wife and kid to come home to, Aaron is a bit more free with his time and it doesn’t take long before Aaron becomes obsessed with Terrance’s “research,” finding new leads to follow and expanding on Terrance’s theories, particularly on the elite Tarsus Club and a Mithras Cult, proving just how easy it truly is to become Terrance. And when Aaron’s place gets burglarized and he starts seeing the same people and vehicles following him from place to place, the paranoia truly kicks in.
This isn’t the type of film where you need to believe the conspiracy theories being posited to have a fun time watching it. While it takes the shape of a documentary (this mockumentary is more serious than what folks normally think of when they hear “mockumentary,” which was synonymous with Christopher Guest’s films), it falls more in the suspense thriller or mystery genre as it rolls along. At the same times, the film does conspiracy theorists justice by presenting itself in such a way as to be both believable and researched and yet something with a validity that can’t necessarily be trusted.
Basically, if you wanted to take the film at face value and say, “this is what happened, just as the films says it did,” then you could. But if you wanted to watch the mockumentary and say that, within the world it creates, it’s not being entirely truthful with its eventual depiction of all events, then you could also spin your mind up over that too. Is the message obvious, hidden or missing completely, man!?!
Another plus for this film is that, while it is a mockumentary, it isn’t shot or filmed in such a way as to play off what people think are stereotypical documentary shortcomings. Some mockumentaries think that if you shake the camera a lot, or have shitty looking or sounding footage, it makes the entire thing more believable as a documentary; the truth is, any real documentary filmmaker worth their salt wants their film steady, in focus and as easy to hear and understand as any other film, and only resorts to lesser footage when necessary. In the case of The Conspiracy, it’s this “quality film first” thinking that allows it to best line up with the documentary aesthetic and, thus, feel more believable and successful.
Finally, I’ve heard this film mentioned within the same breath as “found footage” since watching it and… that’s not entirely the case. “Found footage” is just that, the idea that the footage was found and then played to tell the story. This is set up as a documentary about two filmmakers who set out to make a documentary, and presents itself as such. There’s no, “we found this unreleased film…” nonsense going on here; it’s got the perfect balance of archival photos, talking head interviews and all the other fun styles of a quality documentary film. If you wanted to look at the “found footage” aspect as the original documentary filmmakers’ footage, prior to being seen from another step back as a documentary about the two documentarians, then you might have an argument there but I still think the designation of “found footage” doesn’t apply to this film.
In the end, The Conspiracy is a quality suspense thriller that sneaks up on you. Again, this isn’t about whether the subjects it’s tackling are real or not, or believable; like the best conspiracies, it could be real, and just the possibility is far more intriguing than the truth. And that’s where I think things can truly go off-course for the obsessed conspiracy theorist: at a certain point, with no real outside validation of the truth or their own beliefs, the destination becomes less interesting than the journey, and next thing you know, they’re lost in a wilderness of conspiracies with no memory of where they were trying to get to, or what direction to head in. At that point, what do you do? You’re welcome to find out, but I’ll probably just watch The Conspiracy again and get that out of my system vicariously. Or is that what They want me to do!?!