Effective satire requires the artist to have fun, but never cross the line into mean-spiritedness. Mississippi director and writer Chris Moore (Blessed Are the Children 2016) stays clear of that boundary with his new horror comedy film, Triggered, a film that reminds us that, while we need to feel passionate about things that matter, we should never lose our sense of humor.
Triggered focuses on Callee (Meredith Mohler), a high school Social Justice Warrior who spends a LOT of time worrying about things like non-Asian girls with chopsticks in their hair (cultural appropriation!), and fried chicken on the cafeteria lunch menu (racism!).
Callee lectures. Callee makes videos. Callee complains incessantly to her gay bestie, Ian (Jesse Dalton), who’s starting to get a bellyful of her sloganeering. “Do you actually believe in this stuff,” says Ian. “Or is this just like those two months you spent trying to convince everyone you were British?”
Meanwhile, amid Callee’s well-meaning but self-absorbed tirades, a serial killer dubbed The Jackson Ripper is carving up her classmates. Things get complicated when Callee accidentally kills a catty classmate in a school bathroom. She convinces Ian to help her drag the corpse home, and they fake a crime scene, implying a Ripper attack. But everyone knows serial killers just HATE getting their thunder stolen.
What plays out from there is an unpredictable and often biting send-up about improper motivation. Callee used to thrive on social justice because she thought she was making a difference. Now, she uses her survivor status not to educate, but to bask in publicity. And the dead keep piling up.
Moore knows the film has the potential to polarize, but in the words of one character, he hopes his viewers, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
The director had this to say about the film:
“I got the idea for Triggered after a friend sent me an article about some students getting up in arms about the sushi in their school cafeteria being ‘cultural appropriation.’ I just found that incredibly funny, and figured it was time to address this trend of people eating their own and coming after well-meaning people and allies. I wanted to figure out what goes on in the head of someone like that.”
Indeed, Callee is often unlikable, and definitely manipulative. Oddly enough, I found Moore’s handling of her similar to writer Hubert Selby, Jr., author of Requiem for a Dream, a novelist who often approached unappealing characters from a position of love.
“I hope people do feel tremendous sympathy for her. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t cringe at the many ridiculous things she says and does, but I wanted to come from a place of genuine empathy when I wrote her…Hopefully, people will see that Callee isn’t depicted as a run-of-the-mill nutcase, but as a nuanced and very complicated human being.”
Triggered is well-acted and filmed. I especially liked a brief split-screen dialogue ala Brian De Palma. Genre icon Amanda Wyss (A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984) plays Principal Fielding, a hard-drinking civil servant who’d like just ONE school day without a sermon from Callee. And Wyss gets some of the film’s best lines. “Crazy snowflake bitch,” mutters Fielding, moments after yet another unsolicited Callee visit. The version I watched, however, could stand to get streamlined by about 15 minutes, and some of the actors look a tad older than high school students.
Triggered is currently shown only at film festivals. A home release is planned, and its status can be followed on the film’s Facebook page.