Clown, “presented” by notable horror director Eli Roth and written-directed by Cop Car and future Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts, has gotten a U.S. VOD and limited theatrical release after two years. The film was made and premiered prior to Watt’s last year’s critical darling Cop Car, and it is a psychological horror film involving everyone’s favorite terrorizing force: Clowns.
When the hired clown cancels last minute, Jack’s (Christian Distefano) birthday party is in jeopardy. Luckily, good ol’ dad Kent (Andy Powers) swoops in to save the day, dressing up in an old clown costume found in the basement of a house he’s working at in order to entertain the kids.
The rub is this: after falling asleep in the costume, Kent can’t get it off. The wig and nose stick to his head. The costume won’t come off, not even when cutting at it with power tools. Soon, the costume begins messing with Kent’s head. From here, we have a deeply unsettling horror movie.
The premise alone should be enough to wrangle in the horror movie fan. It is an original conceit to a classic horror archetype. To this, the film deserves some credit.
Clown also engages with some mild black humor that is bold and intriguing. As perturbing as Kent’s transformation into a hideous clown monster is, the first act has plenty of moments that alleviate tension caused by this.
Certain scenes have a shot structure that is worth commenting on. One involving a pair of buzzsaws is particularly enticing. Framing and attention to on-screen-off-screen relationships make this scene one of the best in the film.
This said, the film struggles to transcend its novel premise. Having Eli Roth’s stamp on this film pretty much makes it a necessity, but the attention given to body horror elements does take away from what this film could have been. The psychological undoing of Kent at the hands of the clown costume is given less narrative weight as the body horror takes over, leaving something to be desired.
The prevalence of false jump scares also limits Clown‘s ability to truly succeed. The tone of the scenes they are contained within do not warrant such scare tactics, and they play to no effect.
Acting performances from Powers and supporting cast member Peter Stormare are good, albeit Stormare is a bit over the top as the archetypal previous survivor character. Powers fares well during the first stages of his character’s transformation, then the performance devolves as his character does.
Clown is an ambitious premise with a short rope. While some scenes are handled well, others, including a poorly choreographed climax, simply lack a punch needed for the horror to work. Fans of body horror may find more of merit within the film, but it is a minor film coming from a director with greater promise.
Without spoiling anything, I feel I should mention that the premise of this film could easily disturb viewers. Then again, it’s an Eli Roth-produced horror movie, so you should already know what you’re getting into ahead of time.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)