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Review: Operation Avalanche

September 30, 2016

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

operation-avalanche-posterFollowing his found footage high school shooting knockout The DirtiesOperation Avalanche is a space age conspiracy caper that finds low budget Toronto filmmaker Matt Johnson playing around on an even larger canvas.

This time around, Matt Johnson and his previous co-star Owen Williams portray a pair of young CIA agents who pose as a documentary film crew to investigate a Russian spy who’s infiltrated NASA in the 1960s, and end up embroiled in a plot to fake the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Like in The Dirties, Matt Johnson and his crew employ the same techniques of sneaking into places and filming on the fly, even stealing scenes at NASA’s Texas facilities by pretending to be students shooting a documentary in real life, which gives this mockumentary a certain energy and adds to its conceit of authenticity.  The artistry behind the whole thing is equally impressive, shot digitally and printed on film to give it the grainy look of old footage, and seamlessly edited together with archival clips that nicely bookend the story.  There is also great attention paid to the office sets, decorated with classic film posters and retro equipment.

The tone here is more tongue in cheek than The Dirties, skewing more comedic where that film had chilling undertones in its story of cinematic obsession leading to fraying friendships and a fractured grasp on reality, themes that are also at play here in a different way.  But Operation Avalanche is a solid sophomore effort that deserves admiration for the audacity and ambition it took to even get it made in the first place.  The enthusiasm of Matt Johnson and his team of geniuses who helped pull this all off is infectious, and the result is a fake doc that’s very entertaining and a lot of fun, balancing its conspiracy intrigue with lots of enjoyable moments and set pieces.

Operation Avalanche is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

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