The scariest and most powerful thing about conspiracy theories is they can’t be disproven, because any evidence that contradicts a conspiracy theory can be immediately dismissed as a plant of the conspiracy itself, created and disseminated specifically to disprove it. That’s what’s so clever about Fantastic Fest selection “The Conspiracy.” It works equally well as an exposé of a fictional conspiracy and as a possible construction designed to throw us off the scent. Whether you think it’s one or the other probably says as much about you and your own attitudes toward the world as the movie itself, which is sort of like a connect-the-dots Rorschach test. Here’s a bunch of random points. Here’s a pencil. It’s up to you to draw the lines between them and see what you come up with.
The film is a found footage fake documentary. Its directors, Jim (James Gilbert) and Aaron (Aaron Poole), decide to make a movie about Terrance (Alan C. Peterson), a local legend around their hometown in Toronto, who is famous for standing on street corners and haranguing pedestrians with a bullhorn, screaming about how 9/11 was an inside job, the latest in a series of attacks on a country by its own government.
After a few weeks of interviews Terrance mysteriously vanishes, leaving Aaron and Jim to wonder: was he actually on to something? They take Terrance’s wall of notes — you know, the one in every crazy-loon-conspiracy-theory movie with the oh-so-unsettling-yet-kinda-sorta-beautiful-web of news clippings and yarn string — and try to make sense of it on their own. Pretty quickly (maybe too quickly for plausibility’s sake), Aaron becomes convinced there is more to the story than meets the eye, particularly in the unseen machinations of a secret society known as Taurus Club, which supposedly predates Christ and influenced the course of Western civilization.
The filmmakers track down and interview the only man to ever write an article in the mainstream media about Taurus — he refuses to be identified out of fear for his safety, so his face is blurred and his voice is altered. With nowhere else to look, the camera keeps panning over to his gnarled, disfigured hands. They’re probably the result of arthritis, but this is a conspiracy theory movie, and our mind starts to make its own connections. Who knows — maybe Taurus maimed this guy?
“The Conspiracy” is pretty clearly not a documentary, but it does a good enough job of keeping up appearances, particularly in the film’s final act, where Jim and Aaron use the journalist’s intel to infiltrate a secret meeting of the Taurus Club. The entire sequence is shot from the perspective of two hidden button-hole cameras, which means much of the last half hour of the movie is grainy, blurry, and shaky. It’s a formal gambit that could have backfired, but it lends “The Conspiracy” the right whiff of amateur citizen journalism in a fight against a goliath of insidious influence. Throughout, writer/director Christopher MacBride crafts a believable world of ominous, unseen power.
During those final sequences at the Taurus Club, “The Conspiracy” starts to look a little bit like concrete proof — something we’ve already established is impossible in the world of conspiracy theories. But MacBride muddies his message with an ingeniously ambiguous ending, maybe the best ending of any movie at Fantastic Fest this year. Conspiracy theories can’t be disproven. But they can’t be proven either. Or so the Taurus Club would have you believe.