If there was a mash-up of The Blair Witch Project, Supersize Me, and Unfriended, it might look something like Occupants, a clever faux-documentary by director Russ Emanuel. The film is a two-hander about Annie, a bubbly, young documentarian, and her husband, Neil, and the hell they unleash upon themselves when they go on a raw vegan detox diet. Believe it or not, they suffer something worse than kale.
For Annie’s latest documentary, she has set up cameras in nearly every room of her house to track the impact of their new diet—an arrangement Neil agrees to with great reluctance—on their health and their marriage. Justified by a throwaway piece of dialogue about how detoxing can alter your perception, things take a surprising turn when a portal to another dimension gets opened in their home. When re-watching some footage, Annie and Neil notice different versions of themselves spliced in. The “other” Annie and Neil have different jobs and a less happy marriage.
It’s a goofy twist that makes no sense—neither in hindsight nor when watching it—but the natural performances and chemistry between leads Briana White and Michael Pugliese keeps things humming. These characters aren’t particularly interesting, but the actors make you believe they care about each other, which ably grounds the film amidst its ludicrous plotting. When the happy couple notice some troubling things happening between their doppelgängers, they figure out a way to interfere by transcending dimensions.
Director Emanuel deserves credit for sticking to the formal limits he has set for himself; every shot in the film comes from one of the diegetic cameras Annie has set up. It proves to be both a help and a hindrance. It gives the film a consistent feel but it also upends the dramatic potential. In too many shots, Annie and Neil are set far back in the frame, their faces nearly invisible to the viewer. For a dramatic chamber piece, that’s a problem, but Occupants manages to skirt by. A clever conceit, strong performances, and a subtextual hatred of health food go a long way.
Screens Saturday, Feb. 18 at 9:30 p.m. at the Naval Heritage Center.