‘How To Blow Up A Pipeline’ Review: A New Kind Of Environmental Horror
Environmental horror is often marked by a strange blood-thirsty monster or a mindless fungus seeking vengeance against humanity for their destruction of the natural world. Environmental concerns are made monstrous, an ominous warning about what happens when we disregard the world around us. But, in the new film How To Blow Up A Pipeline, director Daniel Goldhaber (Cam) and fellow writers Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol craft a new kind of environmental horror that, due to be grounded in reality, is all the more terrifying. It is a bold piece of cinema that embraces revolution and isn’t afraid to challenge audiences about what’s needed to actually enact radical change.
Part horror movie, part heist film, How To Blow Up A Pipeline is greatly inspired by the book of the same name by Andreas Malm. The book is not fiction, but rather a guidebook of sorts about the need for sabotage in political activism, as well as a critique of pacifism in climate activism. The film takes those core ideals and translates them into a story about a group of young activists who, as the title says, plan to blow up a pipeline in Texas to make a very loud statement about the climate crisis. Told both in the past and present, Goldhaber reveals how each of these characters came together to tell the world just how desperately we need to make changes to save our planet.
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Their leader is Xochitl (Ariela Barer), a college student who realizes that peaceful protests and having people sign petitions don’t do anything. She wants to actually make a statement and violently push back against oil companies instead of going the pacifist route. Her classmate and friend Shawn (Marcus Scriber) joins her, agreeing that what their college sees as revolution is merely milquetoast attempts at change.
Xochitl also recruits her childhood friend, Theo (Sasha Lane), who contracted cancer after growing up near an oil refinery and was therefore continuously exposed to toxic chemicals. Along with Theo comes her girlfriend Alisha (Jayme Lawson), who wants to protect Theo. Their radicalization comes from not only corporations poisoning bodies, but from how sick bodies can’t get access to the care they need. This isn’t just about pipelines. This is about how seemingly unrelated injustices come together to weave a bigger picture of how fascism and capitalistic greed are in fact interconnected and omnipresent, seeping into every waking moment of our lives.
Then there’s the comedic relief couple, Rowan (Kristine Froseth) and Logan (Lukas Gage), who are hype for the mission but seem to be in it for all the wrong reasons. Not that they want to cause harm to innocent people, but they aren’t given the same backstories that explain how both were radicalized. What we really know is that Logan’s family is rich and his crust punk vibe is curated to hide his wealth while Rowan has only known poverty. They’re more general anarchists, angry at the world for no specific reason. They just want to watch everything burn.
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Rounding out the group is Dwayne (Jake Weary), an older Texan who at first seems like the type of person who would be against such acts of terrorism. But, quickly we learn his farmland, and his livelihood, is being destroyed by oil companies to construct a new pipeline. Lastly is explosives expert Michael, known online for making videos about how to build bombs. As an Indigenous person living in North Dakota, Michael (Forrest Goodluck) is no stranger to watching his land and his community get torn apart by the U.S. government. He’s told by family to quiet his rage and stop causing problems, but Michael refuses to let the government continue to destroy the Earth in the name of money and greed.
This group comes together to form a ragtag group of enraged and intelligent people who just want to change the world. Think of a heist movie’s cast of characters but younger, angrier, and with a higher-stakes goal. Each of the actors brings something special to How To Blow Up A Pipeline, but Barer, Goodluck, and Lawson shine as they portray their individual rage and reasoning to try and convince the world to listen about just how screwed we are if things don’t change.
Barer conveys Xochitl’s own internal struggles about why she’s doing this with quiet grace. Goodluck is seething with rage and the walls he builds for Michael are both frustrating and heartbreaking. And Lawson’s portrayal of deep love and bravery is perhaps the best part of the film. She is calm and steady, yet furious and determined to both be there for Theo and take a stand. She is a rock in a tumultuous storm.
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While this is not your typical horror movie, you can see Goldhaber’s love of the genre come through as he creates and builds tension in each frame. Goldhaber excitedly, yet measuredly, uses all of the tools in his filmmaking toolbox to craft a perfectly paced experience that’s probably the tensest thing you’ll watch all year. There is never a moment to catch your breath as Goldhaber orchestrates cinematographer Tehillah De Castro, editor Daniel Garber, and composer Gavin Brivik to create an unmissable cinematic experience. How To Blow Up A Pipeline is both revolutionary and accessible, a film that demands action but is done so with familiar tropes to grab more viewers. While parts of it may seem too neat, it’s still a marvel that such a film is available to the world. Hopefully its screaming message with reverberate through the masses, demanding to be seen as more than entertainment but as a rallying war cry.
‘How To Blow Up A Pipeline’ is a bold piece of cinema that embraces revolution and isn’t afraid to challenge audiences about what’s needed to actually enact radical change.