Everybody wants to be heard. Everybody wants to be taken seriously. For Willem Koda (George Basil), a man trying to get “the truth” about a UFO conspiracy to the public, this struggle is particularly painful.
Faced with a dwindling audience and a YouTube channel with very few subscribers, the reclusive and frequently abrasive Willem takes the advice of his friend Todd (Andy Rocco) and decides to make a movie, a more palatable account of what happened to him.
Casting friendly local college dropout Flossie (Pamela Fila), Willem will play himself in the film of his life, but the experience will bring more buried truths to the surface than he expects.
This feature debut from Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine (who both co-write and co-direct), which recieved its international premiere at Fantasia Film Festival, is a well-observed character study of a recluse being forced to open up, and walks a fine line between drama and comedy.
Basil is great as this difficult individual, who’s a notorious figure in his small town and is consistently frustrated by the disappointing behaviour of others. As the film progresses, we start to learn fragments of why he is the way he is. He becomes increasingly sympathetic without ever becoming over-simplified, and the filmmakers are careful to make sure that he’s never presented as someone to be mocked.
Fila also puts in an excellent performance as the kindly Flossie, who finds herself drawn to this “interesting” figure while keeping a certain distance, a distance that Willem seems intent on shortening, and Rocco is a likeable presence as his infinitely patient friend.
There are points in the film where you wish Borowiec and Marine had gone a little deeper into Willem’s history and pushed him a little harder, but the writing and acting are strong enough that Man Underground never drags. Some elements work better than others (Flossie’s boyfriend is never developed beyond the standard jock asshole boyfriend template, which doesn’t help her characterisation), but the film consistently finds ways to connect.
The conversations between Flossie and Todd, in which they discuss their own issues as well as Willem’s, are particularly good, and surprisingly enough it’s these two who ensure the film’s climax is emotionally impactful.
This is a strong, well-acted debut that treats its oddball lead with respect and sensitivity, and we’re excited to see what Borowiec and Marine do next.