Reboot Camp

***

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Reboot Camp
"As pastiche, it catches some of the pompousness, ludicrousness that exists within the documentary format."

Reboot Camp is a spoof documentary. Or a documentary about a spoof. Or a film about a documentary about a spoof. Confused? Not really. Because despite the confusing nature of the set-up, after the first couple of minutes it is pretty clear what is going on. Which is a film and a comedy, in an approximate documentary style, about a spoof.

At its centre are two brothers, Seymour (David Lipper) and Danny (Keli Price). Seymour is upset when his girlfriend runs off to join a cult. So he and Danny decide to set up a sham cult, film the result and thereby expose the falseness that exists at their heart.

Copy picture

Of course, it goes wrong. Under the tutelage of Seymour, now rebranded as Gordon St Pierre, cult leader and guru with a bad French Canadian accent, the group attracts followers.

Then, as followers turn to believers, Seymour is increasingly suckered in. He comes to believe his own hype. Danny recoils in horror at what they have created – a cult increasingly indistinguishable from the ones they set out to debunk: and one follower, Claire (Maya Stojan), steps up and takes over.

This provides the film with dramatic form and shape. There is a story and a narrative that slowly emerges from the messier start that looks and feels much more like a documentary. At times, this works well. For much of the film, though, the two styles feel at odds.

As pastiche, it catches some of the pompousness, ludicrousness that exists within the documentary format: the self-important talking head psychotherapist, who provides “explanation” of the process; the dishonesty of cult leaders.

One amusing cutaway from the main documentary takes aim at a preacher and evangelist who seems overly fond of his personal jet plane. Can they possibly be swiping at televangelist Kenneth Copeland, who achieved unwelcome fame with his own video explaining why he absolutely needed his own personal jet? Because if he flew public service he would be surrounded by demonic forces?

Surely not!

Meanwhile, the main narrative, the reality that supposedly surrounds the fiction of the documentary, goes a long way to lampoon the self-obsessed, damaged people who join cults. There is a certain clever reversal at work here. The fact that what is depicted as real is fiction and what is set up as fake documentary bears more than a passing resemblance to a real one. Clever. For which, creds to writer/director Ivo Raza.

Despite that, I was not convinced, as in, not greatly entertained nor amused by the dialogue which, because of the formats used, had, of necessity to be very low-key. Occasionally, it catches its target dead centre but so would an actual documentary, of which there are more than a few out there, as would a harder-hitting satire, which dispensed with the flummery of documentary within a documentary.

I note that on this I am slightly out of step with other reviewers, who mostly like this film better than I did. Perhaps that is to do with my own cultural background. There is little to any of the documentary elements of this film that we have not seen a hundred times over, courtesy of the likes of Louis Theroux. Meanwhile, the enigma of a spoof documentary has actually been done for real, many, many times.

It is almost 25 years since Chris Morris regaled us with the horrors of cake in spoof investigative programme, Brass Eye. This led Channel 4 to change its guidelines on deliberately misleading participants in documentaries.

Since then, this blurring of boundaries has given rise to Sacha Baron Cohen and Borat, most recently at his destructive best in the vicinity of Rudy Giuliani’s trousers.

Though even that is to give too much to the format. I grew up in the UK with Candid Camera, a programme whose entire raison d’être was to dupe innocent passers-by. I did not greatly like that: the lack of candour was a large part of it. And I am not a fan of its spiritual successor, Impractical Jokers.

True, no actual members of the public may have been harmed in the making of Reboot Camp. But it is too reminiscent of times when they have been. For which reason, alongside the stylistic chaos, I am giving it just three stars.

Reviewed on: 08 Nov 2020
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A pair of brothers start a fake self-help group and plan to make a documentary to expose the manipulations of some self-help set-ups... only for it to take on a life of its own.

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