Directed by Andrew Robinson. Starring: Kelly Blatz, Daryl Sabara, Illeana Douglas, Ellen Woglom and Tom Arnold. Rated R.
“Now we are a bumper sticker slogan.” — Wheatus
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, an event so horrific that its impact is still being felt today. From a media standpoint, it was the granddaddy of tragedy, bridging the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11. Often exploitative in its coverage, the media — along with the general public — became obsessed with the idea that not one, but two teenagers could have access to high-tech weapons and then plot and perform the cold-blooded murders of their own classmates. The length of the murder spree enabled the ensuing chaos to be broadcast live on network television, and images of bloodied teenagers attempting to escape through classroom windows dominated the news for weeks.
The worst shooting at a high school ever, the Columbine massacre opened dialogue about everything from gun control as it relates to school safety, to police response, bullying, adolescent outcasts and even music and video games — issues that still get people riled up. What is often lost in the discussions, and shouldn’t be forgotten, is that there are hundreds of survivors and witnesses, forced to live the rest of their lives with the residual trauma of the experience and what they witnessed.
It’s why Andrew Robinson, a Columbine survivor, wrote and directed April Showers, a film based on that unforgettable day. While Michael Moore used the tragedy to showcase the insanity of gun culture in the U.S. in Bowling for Columbine, and Gus Van Sant somewhat artfully told the story partially from the killer’s perspective in Elephant, Robinson has made it clear that the film is based on the actual events, and he’s chosen to focus on the survivors and the immediate aftermath of the incident.
The opening and most impacting sequence of the whole film is the attack on the school. Barely showing the killer (Robinson chose to depict only one gunman), the film conveys the sheer terror felt by students and faculty along with the mass confusion that occurred. With students making life-or-death decisions to hide or run, or escaping through woods into neighborhoods, it’s fast-paced, tense and wonderfully shot. During the attack, there’s an absolutely moving performance by Tom Arnold as a wounded teacher. Hard to believe but Arnold is incredible, and it’s a shame there’s not more of him in the film.
From there, April Showers studies each day of the week following the attack, leading up to the funeral, and the different survivors’ experiences. While the film’s pace slows considerably, and some relationships seem unnecessary and confusing in flashbacks, what resonates the most are the subtle images that are inserted throughout that clearly only come from someone who lived it. From a cross left on the car of a student who was killed — which is still parked at the school — to the packed living room of teenagers sleeping over at a parent’s house, not wanting to be alone, to the assault of a student carrying the killer’s cross to a makeshift memorial, it’s these haunting images that set this film apart.
Another nice touch is the poignant ballad, “Now,” by the band Wheatus, written specifically for the film. With an intense and brilliant piano-based score throughout the film, the insertion of an actual song while we see the characters prepare for and attend the funeral hammers home the overwhelming sadness of the story.
Overall, April Showers succeeds in putting the story of survivors of the Columbine tragedy at the forefront and Robinson’s connection to the event is the key to showing how the innocence of teenagers was forever shattered on that day. Though slightly flawed at times, it’s still an incredibly moving independent film that will find a place in classrooms across America for years to come as the definitive movie on one of the saddest days in American history.
April Showers opens in select theaters on April 24 and is available for purchase that day on iTunes. The DVD will be released on May 5. A portion of all ticket sales, downloads and DVD sales will go to charity. For more information visit: www.aprilshowersmovie.com.