CINEMA: Beyond The Grassy Knoll

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC On the surface PizzaGate sounds like one of those grotesque conspiracy theories scraped from the bowels of 4Chan. In this alt-right fairytale propagated in the darkest reaches of Facebook and Twitter, Hilary Clinton and the democratic party were running a child sex ring out of the basement of a Washington DC pizzeria. In 2017, this was the catalyst that drove Edgar Maddison Welch, to travel from North Carolina to Washington DC with three automatic weapons in an attempt to free the imaginary enslaved children, shooting up the pizzeria in the process. Director John Valley has decided to tackle these events in a striking satire that provides some much needed food for thought in these charged times, when we are continually forced to reassess what we hear or read in the media. As the title would suggest, Duncan: A Grindhouse PizzaGate Satire is a semi-fictional account, pushing things a bit further to sharpen its point.

The film follows sloven militiaman Duncan Plump (Tinus Seaux), who we meet outside the studio of Terri Lee, the film’s female Alex Jones stand-in, who has just unleashed the film’s version of PizzaGate on her loyal followers.This version changes the locale to an Austin, TX and removes the democrats, replacing them with my favorite bizarre conspiracy — the shape-shifting lizard people Illuminati. (This is basically the secret society that controls every aspect of our civilization, The Illuminati — but in this flavor they just happen to be reptilian people from the center of the earth.) Duncan may be a dumb redneck, and a little too receptive to extremist ideologies, but deep down inside he’s not a terrible person. So when he is recruited to aid fellow conspiracy nut Karen Black (Alexandria Payne), who also happens to be black —  to infiltrate the Lizard stronghold, this ignites a cascading effect on Duncan’s belief system. As the two road trip to Austin, Duncan’s new friend forces him to reassess and confront more than just his racist past.

The film is surprisingly polished given the word “Grindhouse” in the title, which is usually code for lowering your expectations almost to the point of nonexistence. Despite self-financing, Duncan looks on par with your standard mid-budget horror feature with solid production values and an atmosphere of dread accentuated by a score cribbed from John Carpenter. Valley evokes a They Live vibe with its take on the unlikely antihero sent to take down the “alien” establishment. What honestly floored me here  was the remarkable performances by Tinus Seaux and Alexandria Payne as our dysfunctional dynamic duo. Their awkward chemistry goes a long way towards giving the film a strange but sympathetic emotional center. You see, Duncan and Karen aren’t bad people per se, they just believe what they’re told by the media.

Echoing our current struggle with fact vs. fiction in our current pandemic quandary John Valley places the blame for toxic conspiracy theories firmly on the shoulders of those that spread and propagate disinformation, rather than those that believe it. The film concludes on a painfully grim and meta note as Duncan and Karen finally reach their destination and are forced to confront the reality of what they discover at the pizzeria. Duncan: A Grindhouse PizzaGate Satire transcends cheap exploitation and attempts to say something more honest and profound than most would expect from this film.