Voice actor alan Cartwright, filmmaker Russ Emanuel, and Ratha Con project director Kelly Lawrence at the screening of “Occupants” at the Athena Cinema on May 11. (WOUB/Emily Votaw)

‘Occupants’ Delights Audience at May 11 Athena Screening

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May 11 marked the kick-off for the 2017 Ratha Con, Athens, OH’s pop culture convention, with a screening of the award-winning found footage thriller Occupants at the Athena Cinema.

The film starts with the cherub face of actress Briana White, portraying young documentarian Annie Curtis, explaining that she will be documenting the life of she and her husband, Neil, over the course of the next couple of weeks as they both try out an detoxifying vegan diet. Although her husband playfully resents the lifestyle change, Annie reassures him again and again that it will be worth it — moving quickly from explaining her desire to document their experiences on the diet (comparing it to the “time they quit smoking,”) to a quick remark about such diets potentially allowing them to experience other realities.

That remark wigs out Neil a bit (played by Michael Pugliese), but he goes along with it. Before long the couple is seen lugging in grocery bags of fresh fruits and produce and snuggling on their couch. If there’s anything that stands out about the relationship between the fictional Annie and Neil, it’s that they really have struck up a liking for each other. They joke, they express genuine concern for each other, they touch each other in a caring sort of way.

Everything changes when Annie starts to examine the footage of the first week of the couple’s experience on the diet, which reveals odd images of a mirror couple chowing down on boxes of pizza and meals from styrofoam boxes coupled with disposable pop cups, all while expressing zero affection for each other. Annie and Neil are intrigued, and before long them reach out to Dr. Peterson, portrayed by the lauded Robert Picardo (Star Trek: The Voyager), who has specialized knowledge in the fields of metaphysics. Peterson hypothesizes that either through the used cameras that Annie is utilizing to craft her documentary or through the couple’s intense lifestyle change, they have managed to open a portal to another reality, which is slowly becoming more and more present on the video that Annie gathers.

Throughout the film, director Russ Emanuel plays with mirroring and sinister allusions to the Peterson Research Institute, a fictional organization who presents the footage to the audience via a brief introduction and splices of their logo as cut scenes throughout.

The film sends viewers through a delightful rabbit’s hole of discovery — making various connections throughout the movie to the slowly unraveling mystery confounding the protagonist couple.

After the screening. Emanuel and voice actor Alan Courtright were on hand to answer audience questions. Emanuel explained that the film has a comic book tie-in element, which was illustrated by Marvel comic book artist Dave Beaty and written by Emanuel. He also explained that an Occupants II is in the works, which will examine what happened to the Curtis couple, who, as explained by the Peterson Research Institute, have mysteriously disappeared completely.

Emanuel will be at Ratha Con, which will take place Saturday, May 13 at the Athens Community Center.