There are probably few phrases in the English language that immediately set off more alarm bells than “Pizzagate movie.” But ready or not, there is a grindhouse Pizzagate movie coming out—and against the odds, it actually looks pretty damn good.
Pizzagate, a depraved and completely baseless conspiracy theory asserting that an Illuminati-esque cabal of Satanic, pedophilic Democratic politicians were holding child slaves in the basement of a D.C.-area pizzeria, culminated in death threats against the restaurant’s staff and the arrival of a gunman who fired a rifle inside. The Pizzagate fervor never totally went away, and some threads of it mutated into the pro-Donald Trump QAnon movement, which is having real-world impacts of its own.
Director John Valley’s Duncan takes the sprawling, toxic debacle and transplants it to Austin, home of Pizzagate promoter and lead-tainted InfoWars supplement peddler Alex Jones. It also takes the conspiracy theory to an even more ludicrous extreme: Jones stand-in Terri Lee is telling her viewers that local joint Tootz Pizza is a front for an advanced race of child-kidnapping lizard people. Since Lee isn’t exactly offering hard evidence, an amateur conspiracist and the eponymous far-right militiaman Duncan team up to investigate.
Things don’t look like they go too well after that.
Duncan finished shooting in 2018—and the course it seems to have charted then is more or less the one the nation is still on now. There’s a heavily armed militia led by a doomsday demagogue prepping for national collapse; conflict over the display and revisionism of Confederate iconography; and lots and lots of guns in the hands of people who feel increasingly emboldened to wield them at protests or simply use them in massacres. Above and beyond the lingering sensitivity of the Pizzagate incidents, this is heavy stuff, and we’ll have to see how Duncan ultimately fares in handling it. (The trailer also showcases quotes from Sundance festival programmers’ rejection notes, including, “Incredibly relevant, to a terrifying degree,” and, “This movie is dangerous. Too soon.”)
In case this wasn’t clear already, Duncan is not pro-Pizzagate—Valley told Gizmodo via email that an official statement he recently posted to the movie’s website was motivated in part by comments attacking him on YouTube and social media, accusing him of being a vehicle for disinformation or secretly harboring pro-pedophile sympathies.
Valley told Gizmodo that his intent is not to “discredit or diminish the severity of human trafficking and sexual abuse” and that it’s not a core focus of the film. Instead, he says, Duncan is an “empathetic, albeit dark, look at a very troubled fictional character,” adding that since production wrapped it “has only gained relevance for better or worse.”
“... I see no coincidence that civil unrest and militant activity are spiking alongside a resurgence in conspiracy theorist hits like PizzaGate, Qanon and most recently Plandemic,” Duncan wrote. “Oh, and all of this in an election year no less (just like in 2016 when Pizzagate was born). All that said, I don’t see 2020 as the end of the line for this way of thinking.”
Valley said the production of the film reaffirmed his perspective that conspiracy theories in the U.S. are deeply rooted in fantastical thinking and feelings of helplessness amid pandemonium and upheaval—something many people could relate to today.
“Between the multiple conspiracy theorists working in and around our production (Some from the Alex Jones camp) and to the angry camo-clad man who drove circles around our crew in his giant pickup screaming that Hurricane Michael was a hoax, they all are seeking a sense of order in an otherwise chaotic world,” Valley said. “They are seeking order in themselves from what I perceive to be a lack of identity. That’s where I saw the commonality between us and them and where I saw a movie that could resonate with anyone. I think we are all desperately seeking identity and control.”
“Conspiracy theories reward you by quelling the fear of chaos and also tell you that you’re smart, you’re awake and you’re ready,” he added. “Despite all of that, the event that will most certainly define the Pizzagate shooter’s entire life was not smart, fueled by fantasy, and ill prepared. And as much as the film lampoons this demographic of people, there’s more of ‘Me’ in Duncan than anyone else.”
Duncan currently doesn’t have a release date, but Valley says he’s juggling distribution options and hoping for a release by the end of 2020. In the meantime, its John Carpenter-inspired original score is available for listening on YouTube.