In Bright Axiom feels less like a documentary than a hallucinogenic dream with a patchwork of facts bubbling under the surface. It follows an apparent cult who explain how they are not a cult (a very cult move, if there ever was one) called the House of Latitude. This society demands “absolute discretion” from its members in return for access to new levels of perception and human experience.
Initially, it isn’t too clear what it is you are watching or who any of the interviewees are. It is only later that the situation becomes clear, as former members recount their experiences of this secretive organisation. Director Spencer McCall opts for a variety of methods to push his story on, most of which have the desired effect of being chilling, fascinating, or both. McCall strikes an admirable balance between the interviewees’ experiences being undesirable yet curious. It is telling that most of the people McCall talks to for the documentary express no regret about being a part of The Latitude (although at times they do get confrontational about talking to the camera).
A medley of visual tricks and special effects give In Bright Axiom a stylish touch that helps to prevent the film from feeling slow. Neon lights and POV camera work help to keep proceedings feel unpredictable and detailed, more so perhaps than they really are. The overt stylisation doesn’t always work, with a sequence near the end feeling disappointingly staged, but other moments are cast in a gripping light. The portrait of a conflict within the group towards the climax is especially good viewing, an insight into what happens when a group’s ideology is what threatens to break it apart.
The documentary seems to pride itself on disconnection from the manipulation or enticement of The Latitude’s ideals, but this disconnection is also part of In Bright Axiom’s failings. You risk losing interest around the same time the documentary does. The flourish with which the facts are presented are seemingly more important than the facts themselves, facts which can get lost in the audience’s fluctuating interest.
One interviewee reflects that “there are moments in your life when you are bombarded with questions.” In Bright Axiom certainly leaves you asking lots of them, and since it is not as engaged or insightful as it may promise, it doesn’t always answer them. Yet McCall clearly knows how to pull off a documentary with a spring in his step and an eye for what looks good. A tasty subject matter is addressed with panache and a deep dedication to accounts of lived experience, with bonus points if you’re a fan of purple neon lights.
In Bright Axiom is out on VOD July 14th.