The M/C Review: Does Chris Smith’s ‘Collapse’ count as a horror film?

11.09.09 8 years ago 3 Comments

Vitagraph Films

Chris Smith has consistently been a filmmaker of merit, a guy whose work has been strong since day one.

“American Job” is a strong first film, and “American Movie” is a classic.  If you haven’t seen the story of Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank, then you need to log off of the internet RIGHT NOW and go find the film in whatever format it is available.  And you need to watch it.  Now.  We’ll wait for you here.

Okay?  So now that we’re all caught up, you see what I mean?  Smith is a documentarian with a knack for getting his subjects to open up to him, knowing that he won’t make them seem foolish when they reveal themselves.  It would be so easy to make a movie about Borchardt and Schank that was mean, but Smith isn’t that guy.   His work seems to be informed of a great curiosity.  When he’s shooting a subject, it’s because he genuinely wants to hear what this person has to say.  He is hoping for great answers, answers that reveal, but not at the expense of the speaker.  Same’s true of “Home Movie,” where people are basically laying bare one of the most personal things there is, their homes, and I love how he finds these eccentrics but then refuses to editorialize in how he shoots them or even in how he cuts the conversations.  He doesn’t want to tell you what to think of someone… he just wants to present them and then let you have your own reaction.

That’s a particularly fruitful approach when it comes to Michael Ruppert, the subject of Smith’s new documentary, “Collapse.”  Ruppert is a former LAPD officer who also has long-term ties to the American intelligence community.  He is a smart, well-spoken man, and he lays out a horrifying portrait of what to expect from the world, financially and socially, over the next few years.  In his opinion, we’re on a downhill slide towards oblivion in the very, very near future.  He lays out his case persuasively, calmly, and with precision.  If you take his statements at face value, it’s a terrifying movie.

Of course, he might be crazy.  He might well be falling apart on film as he explains his theories.

And that’s where the tension comes in.  If there’s one word I’d use to describe “Collapse,” it’s tense.  The entire film is a conversational lecture by Ruppert on ideas like peak oil and economic market manipulation, with only occasional digressions into the outer fringe.  There is a lot of this stuff out there these days in the media.  There are people who self-produce this sort of doomsday naysaying on a regular basis.  At SXSW this year, I met Alex Jones, who is also the subject of a similar documentary this year called “New World Order.”  Even if you are not part of the conspiracy fringe, thanks to the 24-hour-news cycle, more and more often now, the rhetoric of conspiracy theory has started creeping into the mainstream.

Ruppert is disturbing precisely because he’s so composed and normal.  As he explains how he came to each puzzle piece that he lays out, when he explains the process by which he connected the dots, it all seems chillingly rational and straight-forward.  And because he’s had the right access and worked the right jobs and moved in the right circles, it makes absolute sense that he would be telling the truth.  As I watched him, I wanted to believe every word of what he said… not because I want it to be true, of course.  It’s a grim picture of global failure that Ruppert lays out.  But I want to believe him because if you can’t believe a witnes this credible, this connected, this calm, then who can you trust?  If this guy’s crazy, then who isn’t?

I have more than one friend who experienced profound shifts of their world view following 9/11.  People who became very focused on the truth of that day and those incidents, and ever since then, they’ve been driving themselves crazy with the search for answers.  It’s a rabbit hole, and people vanish down it in their overwhelming need to find some order to a world where order can disappear in a second.  When things collapse, people need to know why, and they need to feel like they can force things back into making sense.

I think if even half of what Ruppert talks about in the film is right, we’re in for a rough future, but that’s not exactly news.  Forget about “Paranormal Activity” or “The Fourth Kind.”  This is the movie where you walk out wondering how much of what you just saw is real, terrified to believe any of it.  Even the trailer is a disturbing piece of film, just taken on its own:

That’s pretty much the movie, only shorter.

Beyond that, though, we’ve got an exclusive clip from the film for you.  The film opened in very limited release on Friday, but hopefully it will platform, and I would encourage any of you in any market where it’s playing to see it so that other audiences might get their chance in the near future.  Check out this look at what you can expect from “Collapse”:

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