Ravers Last Dance in WALLFLOWER

Arclight Presents Slamdance Cinema Club - Los Angeles Premiere

Developed over seven years by writer and director Jagger Gravning with veteran writer and producer John W. Comerford, Wallflower (2017) is more relevant today than ever.

Loosely based on Seattle’s 2006 Capitol Hill mass shooting incident, Wallflower provides clues into the psychology of the killer but focuses mainly on the lives of the victims. 

The unnamed murderer (David Call) arrives at a rave armed and intending to kill. He hesitates and leaves, then later crashes an after party. Call is compelling as the socially awkward stranger. Seattle born actress and singer Sheila Houlahan (Z-Nation [2015], The Wonderland Murders [2018]) who plays raver Optima Prime, told me that Call was separated from the rest of cast during filming. Personable in real life, he remained in alienated character. Whether or not that bit of enforced method acting was useful, the murderer does seem completely out of place in the household and ready to snap. Gravning told the Madison Park Times, “He gained twenty-five pounds and he wasn’t bathing.” In the aftermath of the shooting, raver Strobe Rainbow (Atsuko Okatsuka) has to deal with PTSD and survivor’s guilt on top of her relationship woes.

In the June 13, 2017 Variety, Dennis Harvey writes:

Jagger Gravning’s “Wallflower” arrives at something more idiosyncratic and ultimately haunting than a standard docudrama-style true crime tale … Those looking for a more explanatory approach … may be frustrated by the writer-director’s impressionistic view. But “Wallflower” is complex, empathetic and often poetical, emphasizing the flow of life that was interrupted rather than the interruption itself … When a pretty younger woman (Hannah Horton as “Noobgirl”) asks if he’s OK, mistaking his barely restrained psychosis for a recreational-drug bummer, he places far too much significance on her kind gesture. Later Strobe likewise acts out of well-meaning pity when she invites this awkward-looking stranger to hang out at an after-party at her house. It’s also a sort of nostalgia piece for the rave scene, whose candy-colored escapism as depicted here looks as archaic as hippiedom. There’s a textural richness to the film that amplifies the druggy raver experience … with outstanding work from Michael Solidum’s widescreen lensing, producer Robinson Devor’s editing and the design contributors. A diverse soundtrack uses different versions of the Archies’ bubblegum classic “Sugar, Sugar” as an eerie, ironical running motif.

“Sugar, Sugar” plays on a loop through much of the rave, making me wonder if it was ever a “rave” perennial. At one point, the soundtrack switches to a Claude Debussy orchestral score in stark contrast with the images of the spaced out dancers, for what the director described as a “cosmic” effect. The original music by Christopher Crooker (with Gary Robinson) was also vital to the film.

Actress and comedian Okatsuka (Littlerock [2010], Discreet [2017]) did double duty as moderator at the Arclight Q&A with director Gravning, producer Comerford and Conner Marx (Z Nation [2014], NCIS [2016], Criminal Minds [2017]) who plays Link. Gravning, who concocted games to “get the actors into a party mode” and danced around the set to get the cast out of “a serious head space” commented that he’d been “working on the screenplay for so long” that directing “was almost like an extension of writing.”

Gravning deferred to his former screenwriting instructor Comeford, an experienced producer of music and travel documentaries who saw something in the Wallflower screenplay, saying, “Jagger and I worked for almost a couple of years on developing the screenplay. When you’re doing that you’re inside of all these characters on paper and they’re living in your imagination, in your heart and and in your gut and hopefully in your spirit. And you’re allowing them to take actions based on your intuitive notion of what they’re going to do in specific situations that you’re imagining and dreaming up … Jagger as a director, he knows down the line that all of those ideas on paper and all of that emotion and energy in word form is going to take human form in the casting process …That process to me, as a producer, is so inherently alchemical and it’s almost mystical.”

Atsuko Okatsuka and Conner Marx

Marx downplayed his abilities as a producer, saying he takes on that role as a means to an end “to empower other people.” A self-described “curmudgeon,” he says “the reason I like movies, making them and watching them, is finding comfort in the chaos” of movies. “Whatever you’re struggling with, maybe other people are struggling with it, too, even if the movie doesn’t directly address thematically whatever is going on with you. There’s a sense of community. of togetherness. I find that very reassuring and very validating … I’m very excited to make movies to try to put that out to the world.”

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