Indie Memphis Film Festival (2021) review: ‘BUNKER’ is a remarkable eye-opener that will be your next obsession.


Bunker investigates the lonely lives of American men who have decided to live in decommissioned military bunkers and nuclear missile silos, and follows the process of building and selling these structures to the wealthy and not-so-wealthy alike.

From a 6000 sq ft hidden structure in Central Michigan to the luxury Survival Condos in Kansas, Bunker is a fascinating documentary screened at the Indie Memphis Film Festival 2021. Individual reasons for ownership range from a survivalist perspective to conspiracy theorist. Stock on the shelves varies from medications, rice, water, gas masks, tents, shelf-stable food, and weapons. Leave your assumptions at the door when going into this film. Director Jenny Perlin gives us access to the spaces and minds of those who purchase, create, and reside bunkers in these modern times.

One of the featured owners is 42-year-old Milton. He is the proud owner of a concrete bunker in a landscape of partially buried bunker hangars in South Dakota. He talks about his unstable childhood, three failed marriages, daughter, spirituality, and why he hasn’t yet seen a second sun appear in the sky. Perlin spends the day with Milton, waxing philosophical and highlighting the loneliness that seems to encompass him.

Ed in Kansas has an elaborate estate titled “Subterra Castle”. Above ground, it appears to be a menagerie of land gardens  with landscape enhancements and outlying buildings. He equates the lifestyle to the fable “The Grasshopper and the Ant.” Ed is a crunchy kind of guy with his Tibetan flags, shelves of vitamins, and vernal Equinox gatherings. His abode is a multistory home. You’d be hard-pressed to say you were underground if not for the tunnel that leads you inside. When you realize what he’s inside, it will blow your mind. *Subterra Castle went on the market in 2020 for $3.2 million.*

A large portion of the doc is cinema verite style. Perlin plants the camera, and we watch the seemingly mundane. It draws you into a world that’s most likely foreign to the average viewer. As the film progresses, she follows builders and owners through tunnels and halls. My husband and I wondered where the crossover of buyers that could afford the high-end options and their politics? You cannot help but wonder. Full transparency, I live in Manhattan in a co-op building on the UWS, so you can probably guess where I’m coming from with this interest. I wish Perlin had a chance to speak with Survival Condo buyers (if they exist) to find out their motives. It is out of sheer personal curiosity since she establishes this with every other owner. But, I highly recommend Googling the company. It’s worth it after watching the film. Perlin delivers an in-depth look at a variety of structures and the people who call them home. You’ll shake your head, either in confusion or agreement, while watching Bunker. It is a one-of-a-kind film.

About Liz Whittemore

Liz grew up in northern Connecticut and was memorizing movie dialogue from Shirley Temple to A Nightmare on Elm Street at a very early age. She will watch just about any film all the way through (no matter how bad) just to prove a point. A loyal New Englander, a lover of Hollywood, and true inhabitant of The Big Apple.

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