Enter this chamber of horrors. You'll find many things here— terrifying things. Or, y'know, whatever, man.
Clown. 2014. Directed by Jon Watts. Screenplay by Christopher D. Ford & Jon Watts.
Starring Peter Stormare, Eli Roth, Laura Allen, Graham Reznick, Elizabeth Whitmere, Christian Distefano, Andy Powers, John MacDonald, Chuck Shamata, Sarah Scheffer, Emily Burley, Matthew Stefiuk, Allen Altman, and Robert Reynolds. Cross Creek Pictures/PS 260/Vertebra Films/Zed Filmworks. Rated R. 100 minutes. Drama/Horror
For some, clowns as they are simply frighten. Others, such as myself, don’t really find clowns that scary to begin with, unless it’s Tim Curry’s Pennywise from It. Mostly I think people have a problem with the painted face, the hiding of the true self; something dishonest and creepy they see in a clown hiding themselves behind a weird, some times sad or happy face and trying to make others laugh supposedly.
What’s interesting about Jon Watts’ Clown – through a ballsy move it came to be produced by Eli Roth and the Weinsteins due to the filmmakers putting out a fake trailer with Roth’s name on it – is that the film tries to take the clown into a mythological realm. All the while grounding things in a very physical realm with a shade of David Cronenberg influence coming, as the clown takes on aspects of body horror.
From the director of Cop Car with Kevin Bacon comes a glimpse into a world of clown horror many might not have wanted in the first place. Me? I dig it. So fucking hard you wouldn’t even believe. Despite the few problems I have with the film, Clown is appropriately scary, brutish, and unnerving where it counts, making this one hell of a surprise horror movie I’d not anticipated to take me on the ride it ended offering up.
When Jack’s (Christian Distefano) parents face the possible disappointment of their boy after a clown cancels on the party, his real estate agent father Kent (Andy Powers) finds a clown suit at one of the houses which he looks after. Dressing up in the costume, he entertains the party full of children. However, afterwards the suit doesn’t seem to come off.
Kent tries everything, even attempts to cut it off to no avail, until it leads him to the suit’s previous owner Herbert Karlsson (the ever interesting Peter Stormare). Not allowing himself to believe the suit may be something far more sinister than simply the costume of a clown, Kent fights off the grim realization that not being able to take it off is only the beginning.
Right off the bat, one of the only things I’m not overly thrilled by in this film is the cinematography. There are a several times, specific scenes, which looked gorgeously horrific. A lot of other scenes feel very basic, or generic I should say, as if reflecting not indie film but daytime television. Not to say it’s all bad, certainly not. I just think a film like this could’ve used a more steady atmosphere. The tone of the film works really well, from beginning to end, as both campy and also real dark. But the atmosphere itself is unbalanced and if Watts had crafted the scenes with an overall better aesthetic, one holding through the entire time, I truly believe this would’ve been an amazing horror movie. It’s still damn good, but there’s a degree of wasted potential I feel slipped past Watts and the crew.
Another problem I had is the score. Once more, I wholeheartedly feel this is another aspect which could’ve benefited the film, yet they instead chose to go subpar. There’s a very Goosebumps feel in one scene I remember vividly, as Kent (Powers) is driving in the car with Karlsson (Stormare), and it just felt not even campy; it was an embarrassing scene, honestly, which would’ve become full of tension and suspense had the look and the music been different, in turn working together differently.
These aspects together, or apart, don’t ruin Clown for me. I’m able to look at a film and see the parts I don’t like, while (hopefully; depending on how bad it gets) also finding things which really thrill me. There’s plenty in this horror movie I find effective in other ways, despite the few flawed pieces I’ve already mentioned so far.
On to what I do like, and even love.
The Cronenberg body horror influence comes into play early on and it’s a big part of why I love this movie. Starting in the beginning, I already found Kent dressed as a clown highly creepy. The pasty faced makeup, the pale costuming, it’s all unsettling to see honestly. Like I said, I’m not even scared of clowns, not at all in the slightest. But something about the costume alone strikes a deep, weird chord in me.
The fear further sets into my bones once Kent finds himself going through the body horror motions, the clown costume literally consuming him and beginning him to consume the flesh and blood of children. To watch Kent basically deteriorate, mentally and physically, it’s all very haunting. His body changes with every passing day he spends in the suit – or as we discover THE SKIN – of a clown. Bringing in the mythological side of things introduced with the Karlsson character, the clown transformation becomes something of pure nightmares, an unadulterated trip and fall into terrifying madness.
Makeup effects are a huge thing here. Not only is the transformation itself stunningly creepy and nasty in many scenes, there are bits of blood and gore to enjoy as the sick horror hounds we are proudly. For instance, when Kent tries to blow his brains out, it’s sickeningly tragic and a nasty little treat: his brains eject from the back of his head in multicoloured rainbow, which I found equally funny and disturbing all at once. Really grim, but so effectively wild and brutal.
As Kent continually gets worse and worse physically, his face just crumbling into an eternal clown face of agony and monstrosity and pain, I found myself marvelling at the makeup work. It’s honestly something to behold! Even the damn poster for this film is creepy as all hell. There’s plenty to be said for this aspect of the film and I think without such expert makeup work, as well as the practical special effects, Clown wouldn’t have come off so deliciously vicious.
Funny enough, for all the heavy handed bits (I love those too), this movie does pack in a degree of subtlety. Like all the child death happening, not that there’s an abundance but it does happen. I think Watts could’ve easily went the route of shock horror, intentionally killing off children in nasty ways to make the clown figure seem even worse than it already came across. In opposition, Watts goes for a better technique in many of the scenes. My favourite is when Kent’s wife comes to find him, holed up in the motel: as she leads him away to the car, shutting the door, we get a glimpse of the bones of a child, picked near clean, a young boy we’d seen interact with Ken earlier. This could have been presented as a vicious moment, yet Watts prefers to withhold a bit, at least until later on. Once things move further, especially towards the end, things do get slightly more graphic. It’s the building up of the tension and the subtlety at first which I find a great touch, and certainly it pays off by the end of the film.
Even with some gaping flaws, I still find Clown a 4 star film. Not perfect by any means, Jon Watts really throws a ton into this film and makes it worth our while. I wanted better music, a much different score than ended up in the finished product, and also hoped to have a better aesthetic cultivated around the creepy subject matter. Regardless, this is a solid horror and it takes the fear of clowns to an entirely new level! The mix of body horror here helps Watts take a mediocre horror and instil it with an almost epic quality. Ignore the few problems and I found myself a new cult classic in the making. Guaranteed this will at least chill your blood once or twice, even if only in terms of the clown makeup and Kent’s bodily deterioration into a clown out of the most phobic person’s worst nightmare.
Beware the painted face and the fake happy smile of the clown! It could be a mythological beast waiting to emerge, to feast on children.
Cop Car. 2015. Directed by Jon Watts. Screenplay by Christopher D. Ford & Jon Watts.
Starring Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim, and Shea Whigham. Audax Films/Dark Arts Film/End Cue/Park Pictures.
Rated R. 86 minutes.
Ever since last year’s Clown I’ve been waiting to see another directorial effort from Jon Watts. Contrary to what others might think and feel, I found that movie creepy, darkly humorous, and downright twisted. A great clown horror movie. So I was surprised that his next feature would be Cop Car, and even further to my surprise the wonderful Kevin Bacon would be playing the lead, a bad guy nonetheless.
The premise of this movie alone intrigued me, but honestly I am a huge Bacon fan and he makes a lot of projects he’s in better simply by showing up. That’s my opinion, anyways. Most recently I dug his turn as FBI Agent Ryan Hardy in Fox’s neat serial killer show The Following, he did an excellent job with the character of Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First class, then there’s deeper stuff like his turn as a recently paroled paedophile in The Woodsman and the policeman with the troubled marriage from an old neighbourhood in Boston in Clint Eastwood’s fabulous Mystic River. Need I go on? The man has done a few bad ones over his time, but so so many of the films he’s in contain great performances on his part, whether or not the movies themselves match up or not.
With Cop Car, Jon Watts gives us a fun, small thriller that has a tinge of mystery and a whole hell of a lot of excitement. With a pretty sinister performance from Kevin Bacon, this is one of the most fun film experiences I’ve had so far in 2015. The movie isn’t perfect, but it is an impressive example of a little contained scenario where drama and the elements of a thriller collide to great effect.
Two ten-year old boys, Travis (James Freedson-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford), wander through the woods together, joking around and just being kids. Eventually they happen upon an abandoned cop car; no police officers are nearby, as well as the fact they find a set of keys inside. Taking it on a joy ride, the boys have no idea what they’ve walked themselves into.
Rewind back to before the cop car is left on its own.
Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) parks his cruiser in a clearing. He gets out and removes a few things he needs, including a nice big tarp and a dead body. Dragging it down into the woods where he plans on disposing of it, he puts some lye into a dug out hole where the body also goes. Heading back to where his car is, he discovers it no longer there.
This sets off a brutal and tense series of events, as Sheriff Kretzer’s determination sets him after the two young boys, with who knows what sorts of results to expect.
Something I immediately enjoyed about the movie is how natural the young actors are playing Harrison and Travis – Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson respectively. From the opening scene right through to the end, these two are a very good pairing. Their relationship feels organic, as well as the fact they simply seem like two young boys being caught on film, instead of kids acting like kids. There are so many films nowadays where we see kids being very modern and on their phones, computers, and so on, yet not enough where we can see just normal kids playing around, being themselves out in the streets or traipsing around the woods; lots of movies where we see the suburban type boys and girls, but in Cop Car these two kids are the type I remember growing up, knocking about looking for any and al mischief to get into, cursing together like it’s a competition and having a good time doing nothing at all.
On the acting front obviously Kevin Bacon pulls out all the stops. Here, he has a great character and a pretty interesting little script to work with, from the plot itself to the dialogue. What I love is that there’s such an instant sense of Sheriff Kretzer’s intensity. In one of the earliest scenes, Bacon has this absolutely ASTOUNDING look in his eyes; we can see everything right in his face, he knows how devastating things might get with his cruiser in the hands of someone else, there’s this deepness in his eyes, a look set right into his skin, and from that moment I knew his portrayal of the sheriff character would be pretty damn good.
The overall look of the film is nice. Lots of wide open plains in the background, just a PLETHORA of gorgeous looking exteriors. Most of all, I like the score of the film and how it works to set the tone at certain important junctures. For instance, there’s an amazing scene just little before the one hour mark when Sheriff Kretzer is dumping a load of cocaine down the toilet, and the piano piece playing is SO CREEPY. Love it. Really makes it seem like Kretzer is going absolutely mental, out of control, which he is, and the tension is thick. While other times, there’s a great score which reminds me of something you’d hear in a thriller out of the 1970s with a lot of bass and percussion style music happening. There’s an awesome tone coming out of the music and how it’s employed throughout the various scenes which I feel adds to the old school feeling Cop Car has, harkening back to smaller, simpler thrillers from several decades ago.
Once the last half hour of the film begins, I found the next ten minutes or so a little boring. Not so much that they were not good or well written, but the pace sort of lagged at this point when I felt it should still be kicking, going strong. I did like things about the finale, it simply felt like the whole movie bumped down a full gear, slowing to a point while things played out. There’s lots of good tension, though, and I’m not particularly unhappy with where the script takes the story. It’s only the fact the pace slows too much that I don’t find lives up to what the rest of the film was building up to and promising to deliver on. I’m fine with a subdued, more calm finale in a sense, but changing the pace too quickly as things are creeping along and getting the adrenaline pumping, not knowing where the plot will head next, it does the movie overall a disservice.
That being said, I was surprised by what happened in the end. I won’t spoil anything for those who’ve yet to see Cop Car, but be prepared for a nice finish which plays out not as typical as other thrillers out there. The last ten minutes REALLY pack a hard punch, which I’d not anticipated whatsoever. Hold on for a good ride.
I think, for me at least, this was a 4 out of 5 star film. Really fun little indie film thriller which took me by huge surprise all around. Kevin Bacon anchors everything with a creepily sinister performance, on edge at all times and keeping the audience in the same state of suspension. Plus, the two young boys in the film are incredible in their own right. Add in a good dose of tense scenes with a pretty good script and Cop Car is some of the most fun I’ve had watching movies this year.
While some may not be totally satisfied with the ending, I think it’s still surprising even if there are some issues with its pace coming up on the climax. You should most certainly see this if you haven’t, Bacon alone is worth the price of admission.