Film Review: “Hoax_Canular” — Teen Prophets Turn to YouTube to Warn of Doomsday

Hoax_Canular contains many troubling glimpses into private worlds, intimate visions of radical insecurity that are baffling, frightening, and flat-out bizarre.

Hoax_Canular, directed by Dominic Gagnon. Presented by The DocYard at the Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, MA at 7 p.m. on November 3.

One of the prophets on You Tube in "Hoax_

One of the teen prophets on YouTube in “Hoax_Canular” telling us that the world is about to end. Run for your lives!

By Tim Jackson

Dominic Gagnon is an inventor, director, and performer. This Monday, The Docyard Series presents the artist with his remarkable film Hoax_Canular, the third of a trilogy of films in which YouTube videos are lined up into an inventory of voices about Doomsday. By way of perspective, his first two ‘documentaries,’ Pieces and Love All to Hell and RIP in Pieces America, were compiled from clips of so-called “preppers” or people preparing for the coming apocalypse. The first film was made up entirely of posts by women, the second of posts by men. These were clips by conspiracy theorists, fringe conservatives, paranoiacs, and survivalists who talked about strange machines, weapon arsenals, about stockpiling food, of FEMA concentration camps and, of course, the “New World Order.”

In Hoax_Canular, Gagnon’s latest thematic accumulation of YouTube clips, all the talkers are teenagers. They share their views and perspectives on the apocalypse, or is it Doomsday?, or are they both same? I began to lose track amidst the mad chorus of far-out opinions and ideas. It is like watching a sort of global teenage car crash. Yet the weirdness slowly creeps up on you. These are extraordinary documents, an opportunity for us to peak in at demented streams-of-consciousness in full gurgle. In truth, we aren’t intruding at all. These films are meant for our consumption — they are intended to be warnings. Most of these mini-videos are posted from bedrooms and homes where young people, safe in their private spaces, yell at the world. What at first seems repetitive eventually becomes hypnotic. The film’s structure is plotless, but the material has been carefully picked through and lovingly assembled from the massive stockpile that is YouTube. Themes begin to emerge, mostly revolving around the different ways the world will end. The voices of these children – twisted, half-formed responses to a looming nihilistic scenario – are alternately naïve, thoughtful, hopeful, angry and sometimes violent. They are also bittersweet and sad.

This isn’t to say that the film is depressing. On the contrary, the kids’ imagination and resilience – in the face of catastrophes and threats of global annihilation, extreme weather conditions, conspiracies, predictions, and religious prophecies – is impressive. Some rant on and on about fringe ideas, others create homemade disaster and zombie movies. Others struggle to rationalize and philosophize about the approaching end times.

Periodically, a plaintive voice unleashes a gentle verse of Skeeter Davis’ 1962 pop hit “The End of the World.” One teenage girl in a Betty Boop T-shirt pours her heart into a decent rendition of the song as a shirtless boy in Star Wars boxers and a Batman mask dances on his bed and covers himself with chocolate. Hoax_Canular then cuts to a young Brit who begins to lecture to the screen: “I’m here to talk to you about the Doomsday Event that’s going to happen tomorrow.” Such juxtapositions are jarring.

When I was 10 years old, I made an 8mm movie called “The End of the World.” It was in response to threats of an atomic bomb attack, but it was mostly a rehash of 1950′s monster and B-movie clichés. I can understand a kid’s impulse to express the anxiety of the times. But these hysterical clips are wildly varied and global in concern – contained within a YouTube screen the effect becomes surreal.

There is some forward motion in the assembled clips as the predicted date of the world’s end approaches. Near that time a beautiful young Brit questions the plausibility of Doomsday reasoning to her anonymous audience: “We can thank common sense and logic that we’re still here and not burning in hell” Then, suddenly, the lights go out. Panic sets in.

Hoax_Canular contains many troubling glimpses into private worlds, intimate visions of radical insecurity that are baffling, frightening, and flat-out bizarre. What Gagnon has put together here transcends a conventional documentary: this is an invaluable sociological study of youth, social media, and the transformation of communication. Individuals around the world now have the technology to voice their deepest fears publicly. And there is no going back.

Tim Jackson is an assistant professor at the New England Institute of Art in the Digital Film and Video Department. His music career in Boston began in the 1970s and includes some 20 groups, many recordings, national and international tours, and contributions to film soundtracks. He studied theater and English as an undergraduate and has also has worked helter skelter as an actor and member of SAG and AFTRA since the 1980s. He has directed a trio of documentaries: Chaos and Order: Making American Theater about the American Repertory Theater, and Radical Jesters, which profiles the practices of 11 interventionist artists and agit-prop performance groups. His third documentary, When Things Go Wrong, about the Boston singer/songwriter Robin Lane, with whom he has worked for 30 years, has just been completed. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. You can read more of his work on his blog.

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