(Written by Allison Brown)
After a recent screening of Shudder’s The Scary of Sixty-First, I was keen to find a conspiracy theory satire closer to its subject matter, and less exploitative of the sensitive content it addresses. I find conspiracy theories entertaining, while being fully aware of their complete lack of fact. Enter: The Pizzagate Massacre. I went in with low expectations and thoroughly enjoyed the film, which was written, directed, and produced by John Valley. The Pizzagate Massacre successfully keeps the audience laughing through its omnipresent portrayal of each character’s ignorance, while also telling a clear message. It is a film more concerned about presenting the dangers of misinformation over trying to tell a silly story for the sake of exploiting the victims of conspiracy believers’ absurdity.
QAnon’s Pizzagate conspiracy revolves around the baseless accusation that an underground pedophilia ring was organized by influential Democratic political figures at Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington. Unhinged internet sleuths were convinced that symbolism represented ritualistic sacrifice, and children were being tortured to collect a chemical released that is then taken as a psychedelic drug, adrenochrome. In the film, the pizzeria in question is Tootz Pizza in Austin, Texas, but is supposedly part of an organized collection of pizza parlors across the United States. Duncan Plump (Tinus Seaux) is assumably meant to represent Edgar Maddison Welch, one of the aforementioned investigators of this propaganda. In real life, he took an AR-15 rifle into Comet Ping Pong, and thankfully, no one was hurt. The characters in the film are not as lucky.
While Welch was heavily influenced by videos on the internet, fictional Plump is persuaded by alt-right television program, the Terri Lee Live Show. Valley does a great job of highlighting the unreliable nature of their rhetoric. Terri Lee tries to prove Pizzagate as fact by noting her trustworthy source: a broken English text message. Of course, Terrie Lee also uses the alt-right conspiracy buzz words (“Democratic deep state,” “sheep,” “shadow government” just to mention a few) thrown around in the media, making it a very timely film due to the remnants of deranged extremist Trump supporters left behind by his presidency. Valley throws in an extra conspiracy theory which implies that Hollywood and politicians are part of an elite race of lizard people, just to kick up the absurdity factor.
If one is easily offended by political correctness, they are most definitely not the target audience. To present the hyperbolic Southern trash character of Duncan, there is racist rhetoric (which is thankfully portrayed as offensive), as well as a pair of confederate flag license plates. A second lead, who happens to be African American and is ironically named Karen Black (Alexandria Payne), is perfectly placed to call the film out on its own racial missteps. I found it hilarious that Valley decided to call her Karen in a film of this context, as the name is lately meant as a noun to generalize racist, obnoxious, and high maintenance white women. This would most definitely be the type of women in Terri Lee’s primary audience.
The Pizzagate Massacre tells the unfortunate true story with a commitment to honesty, while having a bit of fun, and tries its hardest to separate the factual parts of the crime from the fiction of the narrative. Valley chose to show the “massacre” itself as a black screen with dialogue telling the account; this certainly prevents any unintentional exploitation of the real traumatized victims involved. Overall, the quality of the movie was really high despite its risky subject matter. I read an article noting that Valley had a difficult time finding a distributor, as I assume, no company wants to seem like they are unintentionally supporting an unsubstantiated conspiracy of this magnitude. Thankfully, Raven Banner Entertainment bit the bullet, and I think the film has found a great home. After viewing, it is clear that the film has no desire to convert any more believers; it truly serves as a warning for peddlers of lies.
If one is willing to take the subject matter with a grain of salt, The Pizzagate Massacre is worth the watch. The film had its European Premiere at Grimmfest 2021 on Saturday, October 9th.