Gordon Pike is an ex-musician whose career never quite panned out. Now he's a conspiracy crusader who offers a workshop on secret government, aliens and other mainstays of Internet conspiracies.
But during one "conspiracy cruise" where he's due to give a class on the secret power structures underlying lives, he's on the verge of a meltdown.
The cruise and workshop are underattended, people who know of his music past make fun of where he is now, and in the midst of everything, Gordon spots a strange pair of people on the ship -- and how he might be the object of a conspiracy himself.
Written and directed by Brad Abrahams, this short horror-comedy is both a satire on the sheer byzantine nature of conspiracy theories and paranoia in the Internet age and a biting character study of a man who has lost his way and doesn't quite know how to get back on his path.
Though the short has a narrative scope limited to one event, the smart, fresh writing is able to evoke both a world overrun by paranoia and a character coming to terms with his choices, whether this information is revealed via dialogue, flashback or the videos and images that Gordon uses to construct a world controlled by hidden, powerful forces everywhere.
The film's visual style both stands apart from its milieu yet reflects it: it's shot with a contemporary stylishness and gloss that creates an elevated reality that the conspiracy seekers stand apart from, but its pacing, editing and movement mirrors the constant saturation of information that makes up a conspiracy theorist's diet.
The film clearly has a lot of fun with this particular Internet subculture and takes advantage of the isolated location at sea to throw a vivid melange of conspiracy aficionados together. But by building up the parade of souls that attend the cruise, it also constructs an underlying sense that this hunt for conspiracies is a larger search for meaning by people who feel lost or powerless in a world where power is legitimately abused and structures do overwhelm the people they are supposed to serve.
Guided by a bitingly cynical, bitter, shambolic performance by actor Henry Zebrowski, Gordon is starting to wake up to the way his life has turned out and the people he finds himself surrounded with. But just as he hits these realizations, his past choices catch up to him -- and some of the worst conspiracies he trafficks in start to come true.
"Conspiracy Cruise" takes its real-life inspiration from an actual cruise that set sail from Florida in 2016 and featured a large gathering of conspiracy theorists among a ship of "normies." Of course, this being a horror short, it's not likely that there were any reptilians or Illuminati on board, though the film cleverly uses its genre elements to explore the underlying fear and anxiety of being powerless in an all-consuming, foreboding world -- and how it can spiral into the outlandish. With little faith in institutions and little trust in one's fellow humans -- and actual historical precedence that people have been exploited by large, influential institutions -- grasping at conspiracy may actually be a logical response, especially when people lack agency in a world where meaning is fraught and nothing feels safe.