Operation Avalanche

Year: 2016
Production Co: XYZ Films
Director: Matt Johnson
Writer: Matt Johnson/Josh Boles
Cast: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams

In hindsight, taking one of the most popular urban myths of the modern era and making a serious found footage thriller about it was a no brainer. All that was left was for creators Josh Boles and Matt Johnson to not screw it up.

It’s the late 1960s and the Apollo program is in full swing. Two eager young CIA agents, Johnson and Owen Williams (playing characters with their own names), are home video enthusiasts desperate for a real chance to serve their country.

When their handlers determine there’s a Russian mole at NASA that’s threatening the entire space program, they’re tasked with posing as a documentary crew at the space agency, their secret orders to identify and root the mole out.

But when they start work there’s a far scarier prospect and assignment waiting for them. NASA is facing crippling problems and can’t possibly meet the deadline it’s been promising the public for almost a decade, and so – desperate not to lose face and critical Cold War cachet – they’re going to fake the moon landings. Johnson and Williams, with their experience as filmmakers, are given the gig.

Of course, the deeper the pair go not just into faking history’s most famous space mission but actually discovering there really is a Russian mole, the more they realise the government’s best kept secret is probably going to be worth more than the lives of a pair of low level CIA agents. Things become especially fractious and paranoid when it becomes apparent they’re being followed and watched, maybe by the mole and maybe by their own agency.

Johnson and Boles’ script is well written enough not to be just a one trick pony, giving the characters something real to do and spinning more of a conspiracy thriller out of their exploits than the one-note premise it could have been.

It’s also an interesting technical exercise making it found footage. Though the format has lots of downsides, we’re still seeing the odd well-made example that proves it’s a legitimate way to make the right story seem more realistic (like in The Atticus Institute).

Some great period detail augments the format (although the performances are a weak link at times, employing too many modern idioms that wouldn’t have been in common use at the time), and draws you into a story that could have been a lot flabbier and ultimately said a lot less.

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