Review: Andrew Callaghan’s breakthrough documentary “This Place Rules” goes to shattering lengths to show the worst impulses of the American people. Gaining access that few ever achieve, Callaghan explores how a country can get split down the middle so rapidly.
Although “This Place Rules” serves as the debut feature length film by documentarian Andrew Callaghan, it’s clear from the jump that the young visionary is overflowing with opinions and ideas about the broken world he sees in front of him. After all, he got his start as so many of his contemporaries do nowadays – making guerrilla style TikToks outside local bars and creating a viral YouTube channel titled “All Gas No Breaks.”
There’s also a heightened level of dedication that Callaghan displays early on in the film’s infancy by shelling out his savings account to buy an RV and drive coast to coast capturing a country he believes is being torn apart at the seams and allowing the worst behaviors to become the norm. At times while watching “This Place Rules” for the first time, it’s eerie imagining an alternate world where Andrew Callaghan struggles to document anything and the film disappears into thin air.
But of course that can’t happen. This is America, after all – a country that’s rapidly descending into every chaotic and worst impulse it has, and Andrew Callaghan is the perfect, unfiltered voice that seems right to display it to domestic and international audiences. And he manages to do it in a way that both resonates and floors you at the same time.
“This Place Rules” largely sets itself between the 2020 election night where Joe Biden slowly pulled away from incumbent President Donald Trump to secure the Oval Office, and when rioters stormed to Capitol building on his confirmation day three months later. I’m sure we all remember those days quite well? It’s hard to forget regardless of political or moral ideologies – especially for those centered squarely in the middle of Andrew Callaghan’s frame. The documentary slowly becomes an amalgamation of its interviews; those with the “Proud Boys” militia group, the “Antifa” rioters, and the bubbling population of QAnon morons that are exposed quite satisfyingly by the film’s closing moments.
Every bit of American identity gleams through in “This Place Rules.” After those eventful night-turned-days in the beginning of November 2020, Callaghan begins to live in his RV and drive throughout the country to witness and document every “Stop the Steal” rally he can find. Some flame out before his (and our) very eyes, and some capture the attention of fellow shit-posters like Alex Jones. Callaghan ups the intensity and insight of “This Place Rules” by actually getting interview spots with Jones and other leaders are the far right movement, and perhaps the highlights of the film’s intent are driven home in these segments.
Although imagining what garbage may pour out of Alex Jones’ mouth isn’t that hard to conjure up, there are equally harrowing moments of Callaghan sitting in at dinner with a family of QAnon readers listening to an elementary student share his beliefs on the matter. He begins to cut together a myriad of interviews with QAnon believers suggesting the idea that Hillary Clinton, Jonah Hill, and fellow wealthy and famous Americans consume babies as a daily ritual. Just another day in America, amirite?
But there’s enough content and substance in “This Place Rules” to warrant your attention. Andrew Callaghan is a phenomenal documentarian, especially given his age and experience making feature length films. It’s quite shocking to see a filmmaker so poised and in command of tone and momentum with such little prior time spent working with streaming services on a project of this magnitude. At the same time, the kid is seasoned in connecting with people and engaging with an audience straight from TikTok. Not a second is wasted in “This Place Rules,” and Callaghan manages to turn the dial on blasphemy to eleven.
There’s not much else to say about “This Place Rules” beyond being able to experience the tumultuous three months that led to the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, in a completely different light. Andrew Callaghan gains access at a level few journalists experiment with getting. He puts himself in harms way for the shot and that’s a quality he’s just born with – rarely does someone develop that level of instinct and determination.
As a side note, the bit regarding the elderly gentleman suggesting those holding office in Washington D.C. are pedophiles only to be outed as one himself was breathtakingly hilarious. A payoff well worth the wait and an early frontrunner for one of my favorite scenes of the year.