Movies about roughing it often glamorize the experience (see: Into the Wild), but Off the Grid does a credible job of laying out the nitty-gritty of what it takes to live on “the Mesa,” an underground community in New Mexico that serves as a home to about 400 loners, crazies, free spirits and traumatized vets (mostly from the Gulf War, but presumably soon to have company). Opening with a salvo about the Mesa’s unofficial rules (“You don’t steal from your neighbor. You don’t shoot your neighbor”), the doc offers a benign look at the compound’s vaguely Mad Max–like society. Food is either donated or self-farmed. The main currency is cannabis.
We’re introduced to various characters—a pig farmer who takes in runaways, a former nurse, a cancer victim, a father who broke up his family to live on the Mesa. Their attitude is more communal than anarchic; when robbery shakes the community, justice is served with kid gloves. Unfortunately, the perpetrators—teenage vegan anarchists, identified in part because they didn’t steal meat—declined to be interviewed, depriving the movie of an opportunity to shake out of its wide-eyed, Thoreauvian groove. The question remains: Could kids raised on the Mesa survive in civilization? Off the Grid has no shortage of compelling anecdotes, but broader context is scarce.