“Del Playa” Movie Exploits Isla Vista Tragedy

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Serial killer Matthew, played by Brett Johnson, gives the camera a bloody grimace. Image Courtesy of Belligerent Seal Productions.

Jennica Martin
Staff Writer

After years of being delayed due to public outcry and online petitions, the controversial film “Del Playa” was released. “Del Playa” is a horror film that follows an Isla Vista college student as she and her friends are terrorized by an old friend-turned-serial killer from her past. Although this film is not a direct portrayal of the tragic Isla Vista shooting in 2014, it’s clear that it was inspired by it.

It seems that director and writer Shaun Hart only made “Del Playa” to relive his glory days of college while simultaneously trying to profit off of violence. Unfortunately, rather than make an insightful statement about the issues surrounding the tragedy, “Del Playa” only exploits past events with a bad combination of poor editing, writing, and directing, resulting in a technical and thematic mess that is both awful and offensive to the Isla Vista community.

“Del Playa” seems indecisive about its own genre, constantly shifting between a tacky horror and a ridiculous drama. The film’s timeline is also incredibly unclear, with abrupt transitions between different periods of time without explanation.

Another unfortunate result of poor writing is the awkward and forced dialogue between the characters. The dialogue was only made worse by the actors who delivered it. Unnecessary curse words were seemingly added to make the characters  all of which were played by actors who looked no younger than 30 years old  appear younger and edgier. This disparity in age made it difficult to connect with the story and sympathize with the characters. There were also random references to places in the Isla Vista community and the University of California, Santa Barbara campus that either didn’t make sense or were out of place.

Brett Johnson plays serial killer Matthew, a comical, frustrating character whose actions range from over-the-top to absurd. Matthew was given an unnecessary backstory, as an attempt to have the audience empathize with or understand him, but it only came across as an excuse for his actions. This backstory also doesn’t explain his extraordinary abilities, which include crashing through multiple windows unscathed and fighting multiple people without being defeated.

Devon Barnes, who plays Claire, failed to carry the story as she attempts to read cheesy lines and strained to act during the more dramatic scenes. Despite being the main character, it became increasingly difficult to empathize with her when she continually makes stupid or downright ridiculous decisions.

During one climactic scene, Claire is being chased by the serial killer down a crowded street but never bothers to stop and ask others for help, which would make any audience member question why they should root for her.

“Del Playa” is riddled with issues from beginning to end, but its main problem is how it attempts to address serious issues like child abuse and violence against women. As mentioned earlier, the film begins with a backstory detailing how Matthew became a serial killer, which involved abuse by his stepfather. It seems to be a half-hearted attempt to win the audience’s sympathy, and one that suggests that all serial killers come from abusive homes. However, it never addresses the actual issue of violence in a thought-provoking way, nor did it offer a potential solution to the problem.

There is also an extraneous number of scenes that objectify women while also sensationalizing violence; at least every other scene features a nude or partially nude woman, followed by an extreme act of violence towards her. The overall result was a self-indulgent mess clearly catering to gross, violent fantasies and perpetuating the unhealthy mentality of slut-shaming. The main victims are women who were sexually-active, almost suggesting that these women deserved to be killed because of their lifestyles.

“Del Playa” ends with a nonsensical, psychobabble message that attempts to explain the killer’s motives but only leaves the audience more confused. It’s possible that the movie is  trying to criticize violence, but ultimately it only sensationalizes it. Maybe there is an audience for terrible, exploitative horror films, but I really doubt anyone will enjoy watching this.

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