Canadian film is always at the receiving end of a bad reputation, which is disheartening and frustrating for me, especially as a film critic from the Great White North, who just wants to see a caliber of film that I can be proud of. Usually, for some true cinema in this country we usually look to the French Canadians for the quality films, like Denis Villeneuve and Xavier Dolan to name a couple, but the name of Matt Johnson should start raising some attention. His pure dedication to his craft and his perseverance to go beyond all limits – including breaking a few laws – are what drive his new mockumentary, Operation Avalanche, a movie that will astound you with it’s ingenuity.
The film is very much a “what if” story. What if the moon landing wasn’t real but created by a group of film students hired by the Central Intelligence Agency? That’s exactly what Operation Avalanche is all about as recruited film grads Matt Johnson and Owen Williams (the director and writers going by their real names), are brought in to scout out how exactly they could mimic a real moon landing if the actual expedition fails. When the operation is scrapped, Matt decides to not tell his counterpart and instead go ahead with the main goal of the operation, a completely fabricated video of astronauts touching down on the moon, putting themselves at the business end of a possible insider’s weapon.
Done in that grainy sixties video style, Operation Avalanche is a vastly ambitious piece of work that succeeds in every way it sets out to. Johnson and Williams craft a very original conspiracy comedy that has a slight thriller edge but that situational comedy is just as well plotted as the creeping paranoia that develops. It’s also fantastic to note the guerilla style filmmaking employed, as Johnson and the crew got into the NASA headquarters, posing as a documentary crew, then showed in their 1960s era outfits, with cameras to fit that time, to shoot the film. A ballsy effort that pays off perfectly with this movie.
I really appreciated the sheer film geekery of this film, most notably when a certain director is decided on to be the actual eye behind the secret hoax movie. To those who haven’t read into this “real” supposed falsifying film strip, Stanley Kubrick was sought out during his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey and a really funny scene transpires in Operation Avalanche, when, in a green-screened in bit, Matt asks for an autograph from Kubrick, a quick throwaway before we exit this exposition in the film. It made me chuckle because this is totally a self-serving move that I would make in a film like this too. The originality of Operation Avalanche won me over in the first place but the production stories are something that made it very special. 4.5/5