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Operation Avalanche

Part comedy, part thriller, this inventive indie about faking the moon landing feels tailor made for film buffs.
By Sarah Ward
January 12, 2017
By Sarah Ward
January 12, 2017

It was a small step for man and a giant leap for mankind. But what if the moon landing didn't actually happen? As far as conspiracy theories go, that line of thinking is up there with Elvis surviving his last date with his bathroom. Now, after decades of wondering, we finally have the incriminating vision. Okay, so not exactly. After toying with the found footage genre in their debut film The Dirties, writer-director-actor Matt Johnson and his regular co-star Owen Williams bring the same faux-documentary approach to the world of outlandish government coverups in Operation Avalanche.

Playing fictionalised versions of themselves several decades before they were actually born, Johnson and Williams make the leap from college whiz kids to new CIA recruits to undercover operatives at NASA. Remarkably, that's the easy part. Once they've talked their way through the door of the space agency, pretending to be a documentary film crew but actually looking for a Russian spy, they discover that the space agency can't make it to earth's natural satellite as planned. And so a new secret scheme is hatched, drawing upon their background as filmmakers. But it also attracts some unwanted attention.

Operation Avalanche unfolds as a movie within a movie — with the added bonus of yet another movie within that movie, too. In essence, the filmmakers are making a film about pretending to make a film, while at the same time recreating the historic footage of the actual lunar landing. Grainy images ensure that the movie fits its '60s setting to a tee, while shooting the whole thing in handheld style, often through windows or from various other unlikely hiding spots, helps sell the underlying premise.

Sounds like a bit of cheeky fun, right? Seesawing between comedy and edge-of-your-seat thrills, that's exactly what Operation Avalanche delivers. At the same time, this paranoia-riddled satire couldn't feel more timely, despite the fact that it first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival a full year ago. Not being able to believe everything you see in the media isn't exactly a new sentiment, nor is thinking twice before trusting the words spoken by those in power. Still, imagining a modern version of this story given the current global political climate certainly isn't hard.

Apart from the initial concept, perhaps Johnson's greatest trick is doing something different with both the found footage medium and the cold war thriller genre. This isn't the kind of shaky horror flick you've seen countless times before, or the type of USA versus USSR effort that has been pumped out since the 1960s. That's great news if you're a film buff, for whom Operation Avalanche feels tailor made. Indeed, with one of the most common moon landing conspiracies centred around 2001: A Space Odyssey director Stanley Kubrick, it shouldn't come as a surprise that one of the greatest filmmakers in history earns more than a couple of mentions.

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