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Sundance 2016 Review: Operation Avalanche

Back in 2013, Matt Johnson released his monumental film debut The Dirties. We at Scene Creek were – and still are – huge fans and supporters of the film (check out our review here). Needless to say, when Johnson announced his follow-up film, we were all pretty thrilled.

Now, three years later, we are graced with Johnson’s Operation Avalanche. Not dissimilar from The Dirties, John continues to experiment with the mockumentary, this time taking things back in time to 1967. Shooting largely in 16mm film, Johnson tells the story of two CIA agents as they stage the first moon landing. Using their own names, Matt Johnson and The Dirties costar Owen Williams, star as the two CIA agents who pose as a documentary film crew to gain access to NASA. While spying at NASA headquarters, they learn that the Americans are not as close to a moon mission as the public was lead to believe. Thus, in an attempt to beat the Russians to the moon, the two attempt an elaborate moon landing conspiracy.

While The Dirties shocked in terms of content, Operation Avalanche is equally as thrilling, but on a technical side. What is perhaps so bizarre about the film is how much it actually looks like it was shot in 1967. Johnson claims to have used expired 16mm film to help achieve this effect, and it works perfectly. The technical mastery reaches a high when Johnson attempts to sneak onto the set of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Without spoiling too much, Kubrick does appear and it is marvelous.

Backing from Lionsgate surely helped to make the film look and feel as great as it is, though one can’t help but reflect. There was something a little magical about the super low budget The Dirties, a film that was all about breaking the rules. That magic isn’t entirely lost here – Johnson and co. did pretend to be a documentary crew and actually shot as NASA – but the film does not carry the revolutionary impact of its predecessor. Nevertheless, Operation Avalanche is one hell of a ride, continuing to show a promising career for Johnson and all involved.

[star v=4]

Matt Hoffman

Matthew Hoffman is a Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films and actresses over the age of 50; including but not limited to: Isabelle Huppert, Meryl Streep, and Jacki Weaver.