Intrepid reporter Karen Black just broke big news. Down in Austin, Texas there’s a pizza parlor called Tootz. In the recesses of Tootz is a dungeon where a race of reptilian lizard people sexually abuse children. Black has come to a local militia meeting in Waco to beg for help. She’s got the camera, but she wants protection. Duncan Plump, a long haired and serial-killer glasses wearing militiaman, asks a friend to do research on the reporter. He wants to help, but he doesn’t trust her yet.
“Duncan,” his friend asks as he scrolls through his phone looking for Black’s reporting. “How are they gonna sodomize kids if they’re lizards?”
This is Duncan, a low budget horror-comedy out of Austin, Texas. Director John Valley calls Duncan a “Grindhouse Pizzagate Satire,” but that’s selling the movie short. Duncan is a dark comedy about how conspiracy theories hurt people and lead to violence.
“This film sets out to explore the toxic nature of conspiracy theories and fantastical thinking writ large,” Valley wrote in a statement about the film. “Using elements of the original PizzaGate narrative, the film attempts to shine a light on those who weaponize misinformation for profit and those who carry water for such pursuits.”
No character in this film doesn’t believe in some version of the deep state and reptilian conspiracy. The conflict that drives the plot is a disagreement of the particulars of the conspiracy.
Duncan Plump, the film's protagonist, is a militia member living in his van. He religiously listens to Terri Lee Live—an Alex Jones stand in—loves guns and believes in a confused mixture of ideologies. Philip is a rival militia member who’s interested in taking over the group and growing it. He thinks America’s biggest problems are immigrants, Ducan is pretty sure it’s a technologically advanced race of lizard people.
Black is a young reporter, recently fired by Alex Jones-like Terri Lee, looking to prove that there’s a sex dungeon underneath Tootz Pizza in Austin. Duncan agrees to help her expose the truth even though he’s checked into it, and the place doesn’t have a basement.
What follows is a tragic comedy of errors where Duncan and Black dig themselves into deep holes of trouble they can’t escape. What makes Duncan work is that it recognizes that people like Duncan and Philip aren’t comic figures to be mocked—they’re tragic victims of a media culture that exploits them.
Duncan believes a lot of weird shit, but he’s not quite sure about any of it. He’s got Confederate plates on his van, but can’t explain why or what they represent. One of the film’s best moments comes when he reveals a vile and racist tattoo on his chest to an elderly black couple who are trying to help him. “I’m not that way no more,” he says before exposing his wounded body to them. He even thinks he might be the bastard son of cult leader David Koresh.
Duncan isn’t a good person by any stretch, but he is a victim. Duncan is an earnest loser looking to believe in something, anything. He wants friends. He wants a girlfriend. He wants to be a part of something. That vulnerability makes him ideologically malleable, as prone to believing in white nationalism as lizard people.
Qanon and the associated conspiracy theories lead to violence and suffering. We often focus on the people who shout the loudest, post the most ridiculous things online, and wave bizarre Q flags. But behind QAnon there is an anonymous poster egging people on. Behind the reptilians is David Icke selling books and charging to give speeches. There is always someone who profits from spreading misinformation. Duncan doesn’t ask the audience to forget Duncan’s victims, but it does ask you to remember that he’s a victim too, caught up in a cycle of lies and circumstance.
That sense of loss and sympathy is something lacking in our current discussion around QAnon and other assorted conspiracy theories. The Subreddit /r/QAnonCasualties is a space for people to share stories of family and friends who’ve given way to magical thinking. These conspiracy theories can lead to violence, but more often they damage the vulnerable and separate them from the people they love.
That’s what Duncan is about. Its villains are people like Alex Jones, who fill the airwaves with bullshit and exploit vulnerable people. They’re real and far scarier than any reptilian could ever be.