A down and dirty indie feature
Not so much alluding to far right conspiracy theories or referencing them via metaphor, John Valley’s indie feature The Pizzagate Massacre plunges the viewer right into the fray of this modern and chaotic stew of militias, murder, and mania. Our avatar character whose journey embeds us into this bizarre world is amateur reporter/aspiring documentarian Karen Black (Alexandria Payne), who after being fired on her first day on the job at an Infowars-esque show featuring conspiratorial host Terri Lee (Lee Eddy), meets Duncan Plump (Tinus Seaux) while he is pulling a gun and threatening protestors outside Terri Lee’s studio. On Lee’s show that day she was peddling a narrative about a variation on the real life “Pizzagate” shooting, riling up her viewers regarding a child pedophelia ring taking place in the basement of a pizza shop in Austin, TX that is coordinated by a cabal of literal lizard people. Karen, who either believes the lizard/pizza/pedophile narrative or simply sees her opportunity to make her name, soon recruits the volatile Duncan and they’re on the road from Waco to Austin to save the children and capture it all on video.
Living up to its name, The Pizzagate Massacre descends quite fully into a horrific misanthropic road trip. There’s very clearly humor to the film, some baked into the performances and some actual written jokes. But I don’t believe it’s intended to be an outright comedy, and I very much ended up viewing it through the lens of horror, with a bit of cultural critique built in that is played extremely straight. While Karen is our entree into this world, and her motives are intriguingly played close to the chest, Tinus Seaux’s Duncan Plump is the star of the show and the semi-unwitting subject of Karen’s documentary. Seaux’s performance as Duncan is the most nuanced of the cast and he’s the real central figure of the film. Unquestionably traumatized and out of control, Duncan has prepped for the worst, and sought every opportunity to swoop into a situation guns blazing. This is his moment. It’s time to save the children.
What I found most interesting about Pizzagate Massacre isn’t that it’s an outright screed against far right conspiracies and the consequences of this race to the bottom of the barrel in rage bating, but rather it explores the varying degrees of rabbit hole which someone can go down. Duncan is a part of a militia that is in the midst of a power struggle between an older leader whose wife bakes all the militia guys a mean casserole and a younger, angrier potential leader, Philip aka SideThorn (played by writer/director Valley himself). So between Karen, Duncan, Terri Lee, Philip, and the older leader, you’ve got this spectrum of characters who all have their own complicated, messy, and potentially mentally ill motives and belief sets that represent an infinite number of possible outcomes to this bloody and extreme situation. Who actually believes in lizard people to their core, and who merely profits from selling that narrative? Who’s willing to draw blood for what they believe and who is merely “doing their own research”?
Valley manages to tread a fine line of depicting extreme and absolutely ridiculous conspiracy far removed from any kind of reality, while also grounding it in the human sides of all of these characters. How does Duncan’s past connection to the Branch Davidians in Waco inform his current decisions? What about his relationship with media figure Terri Lee (an analog for Austin’s own Alex Jones) is driving his actions? Duncan is depicted with some nuance, and his character seems to be genuinely trying to find some kind of righteous path from within an extremely broken vessel. But we’ll see him commit acts that won’t really allow us to forgive him or let him off the hook. Ultimately all of our lead characters do things that condemn them and their actions are inexcusable, but Valley’s story shows how they might have gotten to the point where their actions seem to make sense in their own internal logic. It also shows how the varying degrees of extremism that these characters embrace leads to conflicts within their own ranks and half of the massacre of the film isn’t just what goes down in a pizza shop amidst innocents, but what breaks among the militia as the power struggle goes from democratic election to coup. Few live to the end of The Pizzagate Massacre, aptly. And the desperate acts of violence and white-knightery and fear mongering depicted in the film are all the more frightening for how close to reality they really are. Writer/Director/Actor John Valley goes directly into the belly of the beast with his fictionalized variation on a real life conspiracy gone wrong. He succeeds most when fleshing out the complexities of his characters and the personal dreams and aspirations that send them careening towards violence or the coveted spotlight of punditry.
And I’m Out.
The Pizzagate Massacre is independently distributed and can be digitally rented or purchased.