MIFF Review: A Gray State

Longtime working partners Erik Nelson and Werner Herzog swap traditional roles to director and producer for the absolutely riveting A Gray State. A tale of blind ambition, paranoia, far right extremism and murder made all the more impactful in its documentary form. A tale of a mind drunk on ambition, fueled by ego and championed by alt-right base that sees it descend into madness. Enthralling stuff!

Centring around the tale of all American war veteran (at 27 years old) David Crowley who, after returning from Iraq after a tour, has the idea to make a science fiction film based around what would happen if the government agency FEMA took control of a fed up population. The film was called Gray State and, as we learn in the film, Crowley is a dedicated man who put himself through film school and set about making a concept trailer to use as a springboard to gather funds to produce the full picture. The trailer launched in 2012 (you can watch it below this review) and became a YouTube and social media sensation with the subject matter touching the hearts of the alt-right movement in America.

Almost overnight Crowley became the poster boy for them, finding himself an almost celebrity on sites like infowars and seeing the film’s own social screens amass thousands of fans. In less than three years he, his wife Komel and 4 year old daughter would be found dead in their home with “Allah Akbar” scrawled in blood on the lounge room wall…

Nelson’s insightful and breathlessly paced documentary chronicles the journey of a man whose fantasy vision of a story slowly blurs into his and his wife’s version of reality over the two and half years from concept to their deaths.

Enabled by an audience of yes men, Crowley’s exhaustively analytical construction of the film’s narrative washes over into his relationships and influences Komel accordingly. As controversy and conspiracy surround he and his family’s death, the film unravels the quagmire of questions to reveal an unprecedented insight into the collapse of a mind and the trail of destruction it leaves.

Fashioned like a top notch thriller and with a resource base of home movies, interviewees and online materials that most documentarians could only dream of, Nelson anchors the film around Crowley and his wife Komel’s descent into a fantasy land for which they would pay the ultimate price. What proffers from this is the over arching questions around this post-truth and fake news world we live in: How many times can you hear the same non-truth before you start to believe it?

Topical, relevant and sensational, Erik Nelson’s A Gray State is an almost flawless documentary, a blistering thriller and sobering reality check on just how easily influenced and fragile our minds are. Don’t Miss It!

★★★★1/2

A GRAY STATE screens at the 2017 MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL with TICKETS ON SALE NOW