Good, bad, or indifferent, French filmmaker Jean Rouch, the father of cinèma vèritè (okay, one of) brought us here.
And American documentarian D.A Pennebaker applied that truthful eye to rock ‘n’ roll and gave us an inside look at the life of Bob Dylan in Don’t Look Back (1967). Then the Maysles Brothers upped the game with their chronicle of the Rolling Stones in Gimme Shelter (1970). And the format’s rock ‘n’ roll roots blossomed with Rob Reiner’s parody of the handheld-camera style and popularized the mockumentary format with This Is Spinal Tap (1984).
And, to the chagrin of his rattling bones, Jean Rouch’s style of surrealism became horror de rigueur courtesy of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sànchez’s $60,000 dupe—The Blair Witch Project—about the disappearance of three student filmmakers. And while Blumhouse-Paramount brought horror-inspired cinèma vèritè to the mainstream with Paranormal Activity (2007), James Cullen Bressack technologically reinvented the format with For Jennifer (2018)—the first commercially-released film shot entirely on an iPhone 5.
Unlike many of the eh-not-bad-but-not-so-good found footage improvs marketed as a documentary—only to reveal another long-in-the-tooth mockumentary (e.g., 2017’s critically derided Helltown that was picked up by Travel TV)—Case 347 floats above the fray courtesy of its ABC Television Network pedigrees: Director Chris Wax made a successful transition from award-winning short filmmaker to directing several episodes of the ABC medical drama Black Box; Maya Stojan starred on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Castle. In with the welcomed assist on the casting front is the excellent-in-everything-he-does Richard Gilliland—who’s been in television since forever: you’ve seen him on Antenna TV’s ‘70s reruns of McMillan & Wife and, most recently, on Bravo’s Imposters. And the unknown, self-assured support cast sells their roles as “crazy” documentary subjects: they are far from being classified as “amateur” actors.
While Wax’s Case 347 is no Blair Witch, and no found footage flick in that film’s wake ever will be, his take on the genre—with extraterrestrials stepping in for the usual supernatural shenanigans—is an engaging, fresh take on the genre nonetheless. In Wax’s bizzaro-X Files world: Dr. Mia Jensen (Maya Strojan), instead of proving aliens exist, is out to prove they don’t exist and the “existence” is a mass psychosis—and she uncovers a terrifying secret about her own family.
It all starts with that ubiquitous “warning” (that we just roll with) that the raw footage we’re about to watch has not been tampered with or manipulated. Then we meet Mia in her present-state: as a drugged-up mental patient.
In flashback (in a tradition that dates to the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), her case file, “347,” is opened: We learn Mia set out with a two-man film crew to “search” for her father—who died mysteriously—amid the hoarded files in the paranoia-filled bunker of his New Mexico home. As clues found in her father’s files lead them to White Sands, the slow-tension starts to burn—with mechanical-looking “smoke rings” appearing the skies, spindly desert shadows leave footprints to nowhere, along with red-herring Yūreis appearing on roadsides, and the foreboding revelations of her father’s oddball colleague (Richard Gilliland).
It’s Richard Gilliland’s utterly convincing portrayal of Dr. Gustav Berchum occurring at the film’s halfway point (evoking actor Donald Hotton’s paranormal authority of Dr. Samuel Dockstader from 1983’s One Dark Night) that keeps one watching so they don’t miss the third act’s alien siege—masterfully crafted by Chris Wax as blaring light, peripheral shadows, and croaking voices from the alien possessed—on a remote farmhouse, and leaves Mia as the lone survivor.
What’s that? You say you need more conspiracies of the third kind?
Well, do we have some under-the-White Sands-radar and off-the-Area 51-reservation oddities for you.
You need watch, what we like to call, a post-Star Wars dropping: Starship Invasions, a fictional tale cobbled together from “actual UFO accounts” that deals with warring alien races, kidnapped extraterrestrial experts, and intergalactic underwater pyramid space bases. The 1977 film wasn’t Canadian director Ed Hunt’s first time at White Sands rodeo: In 1976 he crafted Point of No Return, another fictional “based in fact” sci-fi thriller about an investigator looking into a series of violent deaths—via suicide and murder—that are “somehow” connected to UFOs and nuclear research (a repeated plot device in Starship Invasions). In 1979 Hunt wrote and directed a documentary proper: UFO’s Are Real, featuring reenactments and insights from respected “military and science professionals.”
Then there’s the ‘70s UFO visitation predictions and “interdimensional science of life” teachings of the Unarius Church chronicled in the documentaries In Advance of the Landing (1993) and Children of the Stars (2012).
And Sunn Classic Pictures, the ‘70s purveyors of “everything you are about to see is true” conspiracy reenactment-documentary tales, broke out the lie detectors, hypnosis, and the Patterson-Gimlin footage to convince us bigfoots were real in The Mysterious Monsters (1975). Then they tried to “Ed Hunt” us with their dramatization of the mysteries behind Hanger 18 (1980). Sunn was also responsible for a trilogy of early ‘70s Rod Sterling-narrated box office bonanzas: In Search of Ancient Astronauts, In Search of Ancient Mysteries, and The Outer Space Connection. The Utah-based studio’s biggest success was 1970’s Chariots of the Gods, which was the 9th highest grossing film of the year.
So, what’s real . . . and what’s cinéma vérité?
Case 347 made its streaming debut on March 3 courtesy of Dark Coast Pictures and TriCoast Pictures on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, and You Tube Movies. You can watch the trailer on You Tube.
The film’s fascinating ambient score was done by sound mixer and composer Yagmur Kaplan. While the music from Case 347 isn’t commercially available, you can listen to his music at his official website and learn more about his catalog on Instagram. The soundtrack also features two very cool, indie alt-rock tunes by Homesick for Space and The Lightjackets—and we never tire of being tuned onto new music, so much thanks to Yagmur and Chris Wax.
Here’s the rest of the great films released under the Rock Salt Releasing/TriCoast Worldwide co-banner we’ve reviewed:
Agatha Christine: Spy Next Door
Blood Hunters: Rise of the Hybrids
Bombshells and Dollies
It All Begins with a Song
Lone Star Deception
My Hindu Friend
The Soul Collector
Disclaimer: We were provided a screener by the film’s P.R firm. That has no bearing on our review.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes on Medium.