Photo Courtesy of Berger Bros Entertainment.
The scheduled release of a horror film inspired in part by the May 23, 2014 Isla Vista shootings has sparked controversy among students and alumni at the University of California, Santa Barbara campus. An online petition calling for a halt to the film’s release has garnered thousands of signatures after it went viral on social media.
Entitled “Del Playa,” the film depicts a young man who suffers from bullying and romantic rejection at his school and goes on a murderous rampage to seek revenge on those who he feels have wronged him. The murders depicted in the film appear to take place at a seaside community very similar to Isla Vista. The film even takes its title from the oceanfront Isla Vista street. Many have also drawn comparisons between the main character of the film and the actual killer involved in the May 23 killings, who also suffered from social awkwardness and cited his own social and romantic rejections as reason for his actions.
Parts of the film appear to have been shot on location in Isla Vista and on Del Playa Drive. It is unclear whether the producers of the film gained the proper permission to film on campus and feature UCSB students in their film. Some students have come forward on social media claiming that they saw themselves in the trailer but never signed any waiver.
In the aftermath of the trailer’s Aug. 5 release, UCSB graduate Kate Nollner started an online petition on change.org seeking to “educate the filmmakers about the seriousness behind gun violence tragedies, including the Isla Vista shootings, and to halt the release of the insensitive and untimely ‘Del Playa’ film.”
The petition received roughly 22,000 supporters within the span of 48 hours, with a goal of 25,000 supporters.
In an update to supporters on Aug. 8, Nollner stated that the film had raised concerns about the filming of students without their own or the University’s permission. “This issue was brought to our attention by several supporters who saw their face in the trailer and had not granted [director] Shaun Hart or [production company] Berger Bros permission to film them… Should it be the case that they have not gotten the proper permits or permission, UCSB and a legal team will take the appropriate actions.”
Director Shaun Hart, a 2007 graduate of UCSB and former resident of Del Playa Drive, has publicly stood by his project while trying to offer his condolences to those offended by the film’s subject matter.
Hart claims his film to be a stylized horror film and a dark satire of the country’s gun violence and mental health issues, and that the film is meant to criticize similar perpetrators of gun violence. Touting the film as an artistic project, rather than a documentation of events, Hart hopes that the film will catalyze government action on gun violence by associating the May 2014 shooter with the murderers seen in horror films.
A private screening of the film is set to take place on Sunday, Aug. 9, and the film is set to release in October, according to the trailer. As of press time, it remains to be seen if legal action has been taken against Hart and Berger Bros. Entertainment for the unauthorized filming of students.
NOTE: This article is an edited version. The previous version contained a quote from Shaun Hart that was e-mailed to one of our executive editors. It has been removed in the interest of honest and accurate reporting.