In the fictional found-footage movie "Zero Day," we see, through the context of video diaries, the mental and emotional preparation of two teenagers with a high school massacre ahead of them. When they attempt to explain their motive in a final recording, they look into the camera, and plainly state that there isn’t one. Why would there be? Or rather, how could there be?
We don’t exactly live in a country that promotes respect for neighbors or healthy methods of releasing anger. Civility is sought, but discouraged and rarely attempted. We’re hotheads. There is no motive because we didn’t think of one. There was no time to before the chemicals kicked in and the guns reached our hands.
Impulsive. Far too impulsive.
"91%" is a call to activist arms from filmmaker John Richie who, prior to this, made the excellent "Shell Shocked." Both films share the theme of gun violence – an epidemic that, surprisingly, is still able to, well, surprise us. But where "Shocked" focuses mostly on New Orleans and concentrates even further on the societal and economic scenario that harbors and encourages that violence, "91%" points the finger squarely at the National Rifle Association and the inaction of certain politicians in D.C. It’s not as angry or fiery as it could be, but just as compassionate and optimistic as it should be.
In one scene, after having interviewed victims of mall and school shootings, we get to see the operations of a gun show: a place where background checks are not required, and guns are given out like cotton candy at a carnival. There’s a raffle taking place, and the winner is an old lady who reaches out with her ticket in a fit of exhaustion to claim her prize. If ever there were a symbol for the American gun purchaser that most likely doesn’t need a gun, it would be a tired old grandma. Of course, it’s completely within the 2nd Amendment, no matter how silly and unfounded her daily fears.
One ominous message comes across clearly in the film: At the rate Americans are arming themselves, we’re self-fulfilling our collective death, scared not of criminals with guns but of losing the right to have guns in the first place.
Paranoid. Far too paranoid.
Powerful almost by default and handled with a clear mission at hand and an eye for empathy, "91%" – titled to reflect the percentage of Americans wanting tighter background check laws – might be too brief and too careful at treading its waters. There is urgency, but little momentum. That, it hopes, will be filled by the audience. I hope so too. The film has flames in its belly, but they’re not being stoked often enough.
Understandably, this is an argument and a story that has been debated and told many times over. It’s at the end of a filibuster and it's close to tiring itself out. Michael Moore’s "Bowling for Columbine" drew many lines from the powerful to the oppressed, in an effort to show just how important it is for us to keep living in fear and armed to the teeth. Existing like cattle is no way for humans to live.
"91%" is at its best when showing the faces of everyone harmed, directly and indirectly, by guns. The victims who die or are wounded in tragedy, the families and friends left without loved ones, and the communities forever scarred. Forever known to be that place.
This is a movie all too relevant, all too familiar and all too needed. It’s a call to activist arms. A call to make a call. Well reasoned and well stated, "91%" won’t make you light a torch and head for Frankenstein’s lab, but maybe it will create enough buzz for some shares and hashtag tweets. Or more. Please do more. Be loud!
Silent. Far too silent.
Bill Arceneaux is an independent film critic from New Orleans and a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association.