Crazy found-footage thriller Operation Avalanche has arrived just in time for the supermoon rising over the country, keeping us all awake until the wee hours. Did anyone else peer out in awe, completely gobsmacked that humans have set foot on that giant tortilla in the sky, millions of miles of miles away? Or are you the type of conspiracy-theorist who'd scoff at that thought, just like how 9/11 was an inside job and Paul McCartney has definitely been dead for 40 years?
If the latter speaks to you, then consider Operation Avalanche your next port of call when you turn up, head wrapped firmly in tinfoil, to your nearest cinema. Delighting and baffling audiences in the "Incredibly Strange" section of the New Zealand International Film Festival earlier this year, this film is exactly that. Set during the height of the space race, the faux-documentary has the meta layers of Inception, the shonky effects of Michel Gondry and the prankery of New Zealand's own Forgotten Silver.
Directed by (and starring) Matt Johnson, we meet our heroes in 1967 as the height of Cold War pushes America to match Russia's every move. A small group of frustrated CIA scientists discover top secret information that Nasa is incapable of landing their Apollo 11 mission on the moon. With the public none the wiser, they set about making a fake film to convince the world that America remains the ruler of the galaxy. Collecting information about how to successfully recreate the mission, they go undercover at Nasa as documentary makers, recording the mission for posterity.
It's an incredibly high concept to say the least. If I was to write it out plainly, it's a fake documentary about a fake documentary about a fake film that's based on a real film. Head in tatters? Good, I think that's what they want. The wormhole deepens as the characters themselves become paranoid, convinced they are being followed, bugged and recorded at every turn in their global scam. It's a teetering house of cards, particularly when they approach filmmaker Stanley Kubrick (assumedly in the throes of making 2001: A Space Odyssey) to advise them on how to make a realistic moon set.
Operation Avalanche sounds complicated, but watching the chaos unfold is a ridiculous, hilarious ride. There are car chases, phone sex chats and a spectacular interaction with a motel wall. The aptly named main characters Matt (Matt Johnson), Owen (Owen Williams) and Andrew (Andrew Apelle) play the hapless, affable dweebs. Matt is a symbol for optimistic nerds everywhere, an aspiring film-maker with delusions of grandeur who somehow landed a gig pulling off the greatest film illusion in history. Sadly, the fresh-faced supporting cast have little distinguishing them from one another - aside from hair colour. If you came for layered, well-drawn characters, you might have better luck on the actual moon.
Nonetheless, Operation Avalanche is a truly original film, as much an exercise in style as it is in gratuitous leg-pulling. The story may wane at times as the concept wears thin, but the mission salvages itself in laughs, nods and stumbling, overwhelmed egos. Although from the other side of the world and set in a different time, you can't help but recognise a spirit not unlike our own Kiwi film-making battlers. Fans of Peter Jackson's unruly early days will rejoice in this giant cinema in-joke, as will fans of Taika Waititi's hand-drawn, DIY aesthetic. Plus, a laugh-out-loud romp exposing the levels of corruption and what-the-f***ery within one of America's most important institutions? Sounds exactly like what the world needs right about now.