When school shootings get made into horror films

Del Playa is an unreleased horror film directed by Shaun Hart which follows a conventional college, sex and murder Hollywood archetype. However, distinct from the humdrum influx of young adult horrors, Del Playa bears an uncanny resemblance to the Isla Vista rampage two years ago.

When Elliot Rodgers murdered six human beings and injured fourteen others in Santa Barbara, my first reaction was terror for my sister, who was studying at the state university down there. My family connected, everything was fine and national news quickly rolled in. His manifesto and Youtube uploads were publicly available for everyone to indulge in.

When Del Playa’s trailer came out, people instantly noticed the similarities. There’s a petition to halt the movie release with 30,000 signatures, citing it as “insensitive” and “untimely.” Shaun Hart has said the lead character of the film (which takes place in Isla Vista) is “not meant to portray anyone in particular [but admittedly] there is a connection of Santa Barbara.” Let’s proceed as if the movie is directly spawned by the real life massacre, which is most likely considering all the facts – it would just be horrible PR to admit.

Although the film is embedded in controversy and poor taste, it’s completely unremarkable in its subject matter. People are invariably intrigued by “true events” stories, documented by the rise in murder-porn television. (South Park, unfailing in cultural astuteness, made a great episode of this phenomena.)

With Del Playa and the like, it’s perhaps natural to feel revulsion. The reaction might be that murderers don’t deserve to be immortalized, or that the producers are simply profiting off a tragedy, which they certainly are trying to do. And serial killers of prolific body count or grotesque modus operandi often achieve cult status among the living. 

But Elliot Rodgers is not Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer or Dennis Rader; he’s not a Gacy or a Manson or a Berkowitz. Rodgers is not interesting. He’s not worthy of study or understanding. He was a misogynistic and narcissistic misanthrope incapable of any self reflection or profundity. Rodgers was pathetic and his ultimate motivation for killing human beings was petty jealousy. I’m so furious upon reading his manifesto, I went to smoke a cigarette for the first time in months. And I thought I’d quit.

The disgust at Del Playa, however, is greatly misplaced. It’s equivalent to getting personally angry at the police for arresting harmless pot smokers: it’s completely unreasonable because they’re following the demands of a law (theoretically) democratically derived. Now, Del Playa is likewise derived by demand. Be disgusted at the consumers, not the enforcers or producers. Although the film might be unseemly, the distribution and buying of tickets is a voluntary transaction between consenting adults, and no one has the right to stop this product from being manufactured. It’s an issue of freedom of transaction, not morality.

Even if the writers penned Del Playa directly after the massacre, in an act of pure insensitivity and cynicism, they have the right for an audience, and the audience has the right to see the film.

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