Wallflower is the fictional retelling of the Capitol Hill massacre of 2006 but unlike Elephant and other films that portray mass shootings, Wallflower was written and directed by Jagger Gravning, friend of two of the victims. Gravning was even invited to the rave the murderer attended before going to the after-party where he slaughtered six people and wounded two more. Gravning’s absence was mere luck.
Wallflower opens with the mass murder, then masterfully weaves back and forth between that horrific crime and the hours leading up to it. This gives the audience a chance to get to know the characters while focusing how vibrant their lives were. The deaths themselves are never shown and the murderer is never named, two choices as intentional as they are powerful.
The film primarily follows the murderer (David Call), a clearly disturbed alcoholic with puritanical and misogynistic views on sex and women, and Strobe Rainbow (Atsuko Okatsuka), a lesbian raver self-medicating after a recent breakup. The film deftly portrays each of their perspectives and personal pain — the murderer angrily judges everyone around him while simultaneously desperately yearning to connect and be seen, while Strobe is clearly distraught over her breakup but doesn’t let it stop her from helping others and having a blast with her fellow ravers. Both characters abuse substances to cope, but the murderer skulks around alone and creeps out the female ravers whenever he attempts to talk to them, thus descending further into alienation and fury, while Strobe has real human connections within this community of fun-loving, sexually adventurous weirdos and eventually talks through her feelings in the early hours of the morning. Contrasting these disparate ways of dealing with anger and pain, in addition to showing how much the murderer is being internally torn apart by his hatred and his desires, was a brilliant way of illustrating exactly what leads so many young white men to commit mass shootings in the first place.
Although I wasn’t a rave kid in the ’00s, the after-party and all attendants reminded me of a million house parties I went to Burlington, VT during that time period. All the ravers are engaging but flawed, just trying to be themselves and have fun, making them feel not only real but familiar. Wallflower brilliantly humanizes every character while only empathizing with the victims and survivors — a damn difficult line to walk but Gravning accomplishes it masterfully.
If you’re in Los Angeles, you can check out Wallflower at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 through Oct. 20th and the Laemmle Monica Film Center through Oct. 24th.
Content warning: one plot point interrogates male assumptions about women in a way that is cis-normative to such an extent that it could be alienating or even offensive to trans people (spoilers ahead!). In the third act, the murderer takes mushrooms and admits that he’s jealous of beautiful women because their lives seem so easy, and admits that in High School he wanted to be this girl he had a crush on. He then heads outside alone and sees himself transformed into the High School girl in question while beautiful music swells, but suddenly the fantasy ends and he vomits.
While I believe the intention of that character development was to examine the murderer’s deepest desires and how they’re based on erroneous beliefs about womanhood “fixing” his problems, the sequence could easily instead come across as saying the murderer was secretly trans and that’s why he went on a killing spree. Regardless of how it was intended, this plot point could potentially cause harm so it seemed prudent to provide a warning.