A Gray State
a Complicated Psychological Unraveling
SYNOPSIS: In 2010, David Crowley worked on a film about a future in which the government crushes civil liberties. When Crowley and his wife and child are found dead in 2014, conspiracy theorists speculate that they have been assassinated by the government.
A Gray State is not a film that can easily be compartmentalized into oversimplified categories. It’s a documentary unlike any other I’ve seen that takes found footage of up-and-coming filmmaker and U.S. veteran, David Crowley and takes you down a psychologically tormenting path that unravels Crowley’s life and film with caution. Directed by Erik Nelson alongside Executive Producer Werner Herzog, “A Gray State” begins with uncertainty and ends with uneasy mystery. Told in a rather journalistic yet structured cinematic flow, we follow seemingly determined David as he puts together one of the most fascinating film trailers exposing the political breakdown of a dystopian society – sadly all too familiar in terms of today’s political climate – and raises money to complete his film with an ambitious campaign. Having created a grassroots fan following, David seems like he’s on to something revolutionary. The film becomes eerily remnant of his real life with frightening parallels, continual twists and turns, facts versus fiction, interviews with friends and family, ongoing conspiracy theories, and in the end a collection of script notes, journal entries, and a story that will leave you in a state of, well, a huge pit in your stomach.
With hundreds of hours of footage to sift through, Nelson gives a candid and unrelenting look into the breakdown of what would have been a fascinating cinematic film (the actual Gray State film) had it ever been completed coupled with the mental anguish and, in the end, murderous telling of a story David had been writing since his return from his second deployment to Afghanistan. It’s a look inside a man and his family (wife Komel and daughter Raniya) and the emotional shift from a what would seem like the all American happy family to a highly disturbed trio lost in the pressures of Hollywood, familial demands, and their own ticking time bomb of wavering sanity.
The film chronicles David’s own recordings from three-camera interviews he stages of himself, his fading understanding of reality, need for control, and spiral into mental instability, to the uneasy stories his daughter Raniya tells of blood and violence that remind you more of a scene from the Shining than reality, to a staggering look at his wife Komel’s descent into fear, co-dependency, and delusion. As you watch this movie, scene by scene, you find yourself asking questions you know you’ll never know the answers to and in the end what we’re left with is murder-suicide of a family that makes you question more than you’d want to.
This is a film worthy of recognition. It begs the question of war, PTSD, and mental illness in this nation. All too often overlooked, tragedy inevitably ensues when ignored.
Opening Los Angeles November 24th at the Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 | December 11th on A&E | December 25th on Netflix
A GRAY STATE
A Film by Erik Nelson
Executive Produced by Werner Herzog
“A highly-topical and resonant trip down the alt-right rabbit hole…A GRAY STATE offers a powerful rebuke to the post-truth groups that subsumed both Crowley’s life and his death”
– Anthony Kaufman, SCREEN DAILY
“Part suspenseful murder-mystery and part real-life political thriller, this true-crime deep-dive feels poised to be a … breakout hit ”
– Jason Newman, ROLLING STONE
“A riveting combination of political commentary and true crime story”
– Frank Scheck, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
“Erik Nelson crafts a troubling and cautionary American tale. Erik Nelson’s film straddles a fine and admirable line between lurid sensationalism and sober humanism.”
– Chuck Bowen, SLANT MAGAZINE
“A story similar to ‘The Shining’ but much scarier because it is true.”
– Louis Proyect, COUNTERPUNCH
“[A] real-life tale that’s as unsettling as it is precisely of-the-moment.”
– Godfrey Cheshire, ROGER EBERT
In 2010 David Crowley, an Iraq veteran, aspiring filmmaker and charismatic up-and-coming voice in fringe politics, began production on his film “Gray State.” Set in a dystopian near-future where civil liberties are trampled by an unrestrained federal government, the film’s crowd funded trailer was enthusiastically received by the burgeoning online community of libertarians, Tea Party activists as well as members of the nascent alt-right.
In January of 2015, Crowley was found dead with his family in their suburban Minnesota home. Their shocking deaths quickly become a cause célèbre for conspiracy theorists who speculate that Crowley was assassinated by a shadowy government concerned about a film and filmmaker that was getting too close to the truth about their aims. Directed by “Grizzly Man” producer Erik Nelson and Executive Produced by Werner Herzog, “A Gray State” combs through Crowley’s archive of 13,000 photographs, hundreds of hours of home video, and exhaustive behind-the-scenes footage of David’s work in progress to reveal what happens when a paranoid view of the government turns inward — blurring the lines of what is real and what people want to believe.