Like most of us, filmmaker Greg Barth was left shocked by 2016. “It was the year I realised how divided we are as people” he says, explaining the premise for his latest self-initiated film Epic Fail with Blinkink. “Facebook algorithmically pairs us with like-minded people, that fortify our opinions rather than challenging them, so my social network circles were a falsely reassuring place to be during the Brexit and Trump votes. Without realising, I was browsing an alternate reality online, which I found fascinating and completely horrifying.”
In response, Greg wanted to make a film that questioned reality and how “fake news” can influence it, and the “clear fact that current political discourse does not connect with young people”. Epic Fail depicts what would happen if world peace was simply put to a public vote, and satirises society’s current situation in a (not-so) ridiculous way.
It fabricates an environment that seems familiar and recognisable yet “nightmarish”, in its highly stylised and surreal aesthetic. Retro props add to this, Greg says: “I think there’s something subconsciously unnerving about blending different time periods. The film It Follows has 60s cars in a world where kids are dressed in 80s clothes and have smartphones, like an alternate present. I wanted to create something similar.” The use of sugary colours “heightens the deceptive notion everything is going to be ok,” he says.
Greg’s imagined news channel is cluttered and dubious in its trustworthiness. He worked on graphic design with studio Futurneue to create “Breitbart meets the UFC network; brash, ageing yet wanting to be cool and young”. The film’s social network Smilebook forbids users from posting negative points of view, and is aptly retro while still worryingly close to reality.
A short clip at the end shows how some of the film’s special effects were created, from a vertically suspended computer pouring paper ‘likes’ into the user’s face, to a series of bendy keyboards. Prosthetic hands made by Suzy Battersby have actual hair follicles inserted into silicon arms “to add to the creepiness”. “Before finding her I had actually ordered some silicon transvestite gloves from a weird Chinese manufacturing website and had to convince my bank that I had actually ordered these for my work, and they were a legitimate company expense,” Greg tells us. “Unfortunately, they weren’t real-looking enough.”
Many of the other props were originally made and filmed for gifs for station.ch, around the time Trump was elected – a coincidence that prompted Greg to create this expressive personal film.