Review by James Lindorf
Jagger Gravning’s Wallflower is a unique and evocative look at Seattle’s 2006 Capitol Hill massacre. Wallflower turns the standard docudrama-style true crime story from a dry retelling of the facts into a nuanced tale of culture-clash. Jealous of the hedonistic lifestyle of ravers, the murderer decides now is the time to infiltrate their ranks and put an end to the debauchery. As he meets a group of party-goers who welcome him into their home and lives, he begins to question what he believes he must do. Wallflower will open in New York starting October 4th and then move to seven other cities on the 18th.
Gravning was invited to the real-life 2006 rave that preceded the fateful afterparty, and Wallflower is an expression of his survivor’s guilt. Wallflower is often a poetic fight against inevitability as we watch the murderer battle with his attraction to, and repulsion from, the ravers. Wallflower is not a thriller with tension building as the climactic event inches closer. Instead, Gravning features the shooting in the opening minutes, before rewinding to focus on the victims and their executioner. This decision makes the film less about the mass shooting and more about the people.
Two real-life survivors of the massacre were brought on to serve as Associate Producers to make sure the characters and the scene were portrayed as accurately as possible. Atsuko Okatsuka (They Call Me Stacy) plays bourgeoning illustrator Strobe Rainbow, while Conner Marx (Z Nation) plays Link, the charismatic leader of the rave scene. It is Link who reaches out repeatedly to the lonely man at the rave. The murderer is played by David Call (Tiny Furniture) in a maddeningly realistic performance.
Gravning’s proximity to the victims may have led to their idealized depictions. Their parties may not be exactly legal, but it is the only wrong thing they do in the film. Otherwise, they are just good people and good friends in search of fun and meaning in the world. They even pause for a moment to stop a potential sexual assault that does nothing for the film but makes viewers feel even worse about their deaths. The murderer may have been harder to bring to life if the film would have been made immediately following the event. However, as time has passed and Incel mentality and activities have moved into mainstream consciousness, we instantly know what is driving him. The best part of the film is Call’s performance when he is teetering on edge. Even though we know the outcome, you can’t help yourself from hoping that he will have a breakthrough before a breakdown.
Wallflower is an essential look at a new danger threatening everyone, but women especially. Needing to be able to recognize the signs in yourself or others and seeking help or shelter from these Incel ideals is something that is increasingly common. On the other hand, Wallflower is also a darkly lit, inconsistent in tone, and may not be able to capture the attention of a wider audience.