It would seem that I'm slowly working through a list of titles compiled over years of browsing the shelves at Rogers Video. I came across this one quite some time ago but never got round to renting it--I was always curious, but just not curious enough. So the other morning, while everyone was still asleep, I had free run of the TV and, having finally procured a copy of the film, I sat down to watch.
I should probably start off by saying that I'm not terribly familiar with Werner Herzog. I know he has a reputation for being both crazy and good at what he does, but I've never seen any of his films. In this movie, however, Werner is not the director, but the star. And he's not crazy.
Incident at Loch Ness is a mocumentary. More precisely, it's a documentary about a documentary about the Loch Ness Monster. Werner's new project is a documentary that explores the myth of Nessie and how it has persisted over the years. Cinematographer John Bailey is making his own documentary about Werner's project. The film begins at Werner's house in LA where he's hosting a dinner party. Among the invited guests are Zach, Werner's producer, and Garbriel, the DoP. Already things seem a little off when Gabriel has some questions for Werner but is a little confused by Werner's unwillingness to talk about the project. Zach steers Gabriel back to the dinner table, and the party continues. Soon, everyone has arrived at Loch Ness and Werner's project is about to get underway. Again there appears to be something wrong when Zach produces jumpsuits for the crew, with a mind to make production appear to be a real expedition. And then a woman shows up claiming to be the sonar operator and Werner has no idea who she is. Add to this a secret rendez-vous between Zach and an engineer, and you begin to understand that Zach and Werner have two very different visions for the project, and Zach is going the extra mile to make sure his vision is realized on film.
Though perhaps not the best acted mocumentary out there, Incident at Loch Ness is among the more interesting and unique. The film-within-a-film approach to the story allows the viewer to witness both sides of the production: Werner's honest attempts to make documentary, and Zach's less honest attempts at making a spectacle. Both men, however, are drawing from the same well. Neither believes Nessie is real, but whereas Werner is using this knowledge to inform his movie, Zach is keen to "prove" the opposite.
As the relationship between Werner and Zach becomes increasingly stressed, the rest of the crew slowly come to realize they're being had. Only they're not entirely sure by whom. As one would expect, things just get worse and worse. People quit, the boat dies, and Zach is finally outed as a conniving, egotistical, blowhard. But for all its drama, the movie is actually quite funny--a comedy of errors. Werner's sober approach to the subject of Nessie, which wonderfully contrasts his real-life adventures while filming Fitzcarraldo, is the straight man to Zach's outlandishness. Zach's pedigree is writing action movies.
Because of the documentary format, the audience is made aware of the fact that not everyone survives early in the film. The effect is one of curious suspense as we wait for that moment when things start to really go downhill. And the climax, when it comes, brings with it a rare moment of clarity. Both Werner and Zach have failed to make their movie, but John's camera is still rolling. John's movie the only movie; the unbiased, neutral observer has been witness to what both Werner and Zach had wanted for themselves. Werner describes it as being like a horror movie.
And he's right. Incident at Loch Ness is like a horror movie. One I'm glad I finally saw.