American Gods – Season 1, Episode 2: “The Secret of Spoons”

Starz’ American Gods
Season 1, Episode 2: “The Secret of Spoons”
Directed by David Slade
Written by Michael Green & Bryan Fuller

* For a recap & review of the premiere, “The Bone Orchard” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Head Full of Snow” – click here
Pic 1We start on 1697 – Coming to America – when slaves were being transported by ship. One of them calls to Anansi who is a character from African folklore, usually in the form of a spider. The slave regrets he cannot do anything to honour him in those chains. But that if the god is merciful, he will repay him for the rest of his life. Then they’re shocked by a man in a fine suit, something they’ve never seen: Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones). He tells them of a story where “once upon a time a man got fucked,” which is, essentially, the story of African Americans. He tells them of what awaits at the end of their journey. He gives them a quick lesson in how fucked they all are, and how bad American will be for their people.
So either kill the Dutch motherfuckers, or go to the land of opportunity where they’ll be fucked for hundreds of years. He sets one man free then they’re all raging for justice. The ship starts going up in flames and everyone burns while Anansi crawls ashore.
Mr. Nancy: “Angry is good. Angry gets shit done.”
Pic 1AWho saved Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), at the mercy of Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and his Children? He’s in a hospital getting stitched and taken care of, then goes straight for Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). They chat about what’s happened, and Wednesday knows all about the toad smoking kid. Meanwhile, Shadow isn’t pleased, seeing as how he was “strange fucking fruit” for a brief moment in time. However he doesn’t realise that Wednesday is already plotting.
That night Shadow dreams of his wife Laura (Emily Browning) coming through the door. She says she isn’t dead. Yeah, that’s comforting. Of course it’s a dream, but the guy’s already been through the ringer. Nightmare land in his head won’t help a thing.
The next day he goes back to the house he shared with his wife, before he went away to jail. Everything’s laid out for a Welcome Home party, only it’s now depressing and sombre. Everywhere are the memories of Laura, in each room. So he packs everything away in boxes. Finally, after staring at it all day, he opens the box from the coroner’s office. Inside is her wedding ring, her phone. He looks through her phone to find a dick pic from Robbie, confirming the worst. That’s some ugly shit.
What’s next after Shadow leaves Eagle Point? He and Wednesday go on the road with CCR blaring from the speakers. Only deal: no highways. They need to go to Chicago so Wednesday can pick up his hammer. We’re treated to an excellent visual here that I won’t spoil by even trying to describe it, other than it makes the sky look WILD!
Pic 2The two make a pit stop. Shadow goes to pick up things on a list he’s given, everything from maps to vodka and all kinds of stuff. Suddenly, Media (Gillian Anderson) speaks to Shadow from a television screen. More of those great visuals, too. Media comes through on I Love Lucy as Mrs. Ricardo herself. She talks a good game, offering to employ him. Another one of the New Gods. Oh, this strange new world!
Media: “Dont fight gravity, Shadow.”
Shadow believes it’s all in his head. He tells Wednesday about his run in with Lucy, thinking his time in jail ripened his brain to mush. His older gentleman friend explains that mad isn’t the biggest sacrifice that might need to be made. Later he goes on a nice spiel about messages, tossing the cellphones out the window and lamenting those days of opening letters; such great delivery from the master, Mr. McShane.
A journey through the universe takes us to Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), who we last saw take a man home and devour him.. sort of, yeah. She’s got a new guy. Then a new woman. And the endlessly sexual cycle perpetuates, on and on. Note: perfect cut is edited when we see the frame jump from Bilquis naked in bed to a statue of stone standing tall, breasts in hand; clever work. She is most certainly one of the Old Gods, of whom I can’t wait to see more.
Wednesday goes to see several people, including Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman), an old Russian woman. That’s why they picked up that vodka, particularly. She loves it. Then there’s the other sisters, Zorya Ultrennyaya (Martha Kelly) and Zorya Polunochnyaya (Erika Kaar). Vechernyaya tells fortunes, offering to show Shadow his own. There’s also Czernobog (Peter Stormare), covered in cow blood and not happy to see Wednesday.
Zorya Vechernyaya: “Family is who you survive with when you need to survive


Constantly smoking, Czernobog refuses to go along with Wednesday. He doesn’t want to do any of what they used to do anymore. Whatever that was; he also has a brother (for those who don’t know he’s a Slavic deity, the Black God, considered as a counterpart to Belobog, the White God). What we’re treated to is seeing how this Old God, he’s a dangerous one, has a sketchy reputation. He doesn’t like killing the new way, either. He likes the old fashion way.
Czernobog: “To give a good death is art
After dinner Shadow sits to play checkers with Czernobog. Then we discover his hammer. A massive sledgehammer he keeps on the mantle. He is a bad motherfucker, that’s for sure. He’s sad his tool doesn’t get fed the blood it needs anymore; Shadow has visions of it soaked in gore. Oh, this place is creepy.
Now, if Czernobog loses chess he’ll agree to go with Wednesday. If he wins, Shadow takes the hammer to feed it some of that good “sunrise blood” in the morning. And the game is on. They play down to the last pieces on the board and poor Shadow’s not doing so well. He loses at the bitter end.
Pic 4So what’s going to happen next time? Czernobog is owed blood he’s promised.
Next episode is titled “

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UNDOCUMENTED is American Nationalism Up Close & Ugly

Undocumented. 2010. Directed by Chris Peckover. Screenplay by Peckover & Joe Peterson.
Starring Scott Mechlowicz, Alona Tal, Yancey Arias, Greg Serano, Kevin Weisman, Tina Borek, Peter Stormare, Nicholas Tucci, & Noah Segan.
Sheperd Glen Productions.
Unrated. 96 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
undocumentedposterI’m a lover and defender of found footage as a sub-genre. Because when used appropriately, whether it involves a gimmick or not, there’s plenty to do with the concept of found footage. Sometimes a film adheres totally to the format. Other times it’s a bit loose and not every aspect of the movie tends to fall in line. Still, if the premise is something intriguing that hasn’t been really done before, there’s a lot of room for a gruesomely fun horror ride.
Undocumented is a political horror, in every sense. Many brand it as torture porn, a term I can’t stand. I say that beneath all the ghastly madness there’s a strong message about extremists, the behaviour of those who are fundamentally for nationalism to a point of denying others less fortunate human rights. There’s a good deal of nasty horror. Don’t get me wrong. But it never overshadows the more thoughtful points of the screenplay. And there is certainly thoughtfulness, under the blood and the tears. Nationalism anywhere can become less about pride and more about hate. Undocumented is a grim view of the dangers in nationalism, specifically the violent bran of gun-loving nationalists in America.
Still, don’t be fooled – when I saw Americans, I don’t just mean those who were born in the country, but also those who legally immigrated. The American Dream casts a spell over everyone and soon you’re armed, ready to fight for those rights you believe someone else is taking away.
undocumented1There’s a strain of hypocrisy running through much of the plot. First, the fact Z (Peter Stormare) speaks with his thick foreign accent makes us wonder how legal immigrants could be so harshly judgemental of those unable to attain citizenship, needing to get out of their country because of violence, drugs, many other awful things. They’ve become indoctrinated into the pro-American lifestyle so hard that they are blind to the plight of other immigrants. Later on when Alberto (Yancey Arias) is being quizzed, in life or death style, he’s asked questions that many natural born Americans probably can’t answer. This is best exemplified when one of the cameramen whispers the answer to “Who said ‘Give me liberty or give me death’?” – he says that it’s Thomas Jefferson. Well, this is in fact wrong; it was actually Patrick Henry. And that’s an often misattributed quote that Americans get wrong. The irony is deafening, the hypocrisy so blatantly evident. This is an illustration of how certain elements in the immigration test are hypocritical at a basic level, when so many Americans probably would never be capable of telling you how many members there are in Congress, et cetera. A great, vicious point director Chris Peckover (co-wrote the script with Joe Peterson) makes with this scene. Add on top of that the fact Z and his patriotic crusaders kill illegal immigrants, they’re doing nothing for American freedom, that’s for damn sure.
I’d consider the saddest, most dehumanising moment – even amongst all the horrific torture – when one of the patriots gives a tour to the documentary filmmakers. They come across a woman he calls Maria (not her real name). He treats her, literally, like an animal by feeding her apple slices when she finishes the words to “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” If you couldn’t understand it before, the fact these men see Mexicans as lower forms of life is shockingly presented in this scene.
undocumented2Youre a Botticelli now. But if I let you rot in the sun a few days, youd be Rubenesque.”

The Artist (Nicholas Tucci) disturbs me most. He’s the film’s most viscerally disturbing character. How much joy he takes in the macabre process of creating human scarecrows for immigrant tunnels is truly scary. Under a mask like the others, Tucci manages to take the character into chilling territory. His matter of fact way of speaking, how he explains on a living subject where he’ll cut pieces out of the corpse on which he works; everything he does is morbid and powerfully unnerving. Likewise, Stormare as the leader of the nationalist group is a figure of utter dread. Even through the mask he wears his performance gets to you, digging under the skin. At one point he gives a silent, animal-like head tilt into the camera; you barely see his features beneath the mask, but just his body language makes the moment one that will run your blood cold.
When they break out the piñata, it is a cruel scene, like the perfect culmination to top off all the previous cruelty. Along with A Serbian Film (released in the same year) and 2011’s Kill List, this moment is up there with some horrendous, tragic moments in horror very similar in execution. Having the piñata there is simply another touch to add insult to injury, in a proper storytelling sense. A real carnival of human suffering.
undocumented3Because the acting is really solid, including Scott Mechlowicz whose terror in the face of their situation is spot on, and the horror is visceral, Undocumented is one of the better found footage efforts out there. It isn’t perfect, much of the plot hits on one note, over and over. Yet in between all the torture, the bloody mess, the nationalist rants, there are genuinely smart points made in the writing about how America’s ardent anti-immigration camp can get dangerously lost in its own rhetoric and whirlwind of patriotic hate disguised as pride.
I love Americans, I have friends from the U.S. and even family in Kentucky. Those who are smart, level-headed, open-minded are wonderful. But there is a dark, racially charged and racially biased segment of the country, one we’re seeing inflamed right now due to the current 2016 Presidential Election and much of the nonsense Drumpf is putting out into American society. 
Undocumented
is a horror movie view of what extremism can bring. We’ve seen plenty on the other side of things, pointing fingers at anybody brown for possibly harbouring anti-American feelings since 9/11. This time, director Chris Peckover takes aim at the homefront. Moreover, he opts not to just go by the media-centred view of the American South being where all the anti-immigration sentiment is coming from. And this is what chills the most: once you’ve been legally crowned a U.S. citizen, the hidden workings of the country begin shaping your mind. Like Z and some of the other legal immigrants in the film, it’s not always who you think that hates those who illegally enter the country.
Now and then you’d be surprised where hates lies.

Minority Report’s Speculative Fiction is All Kinds of Awesome

Minority Report. 2002. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Jon Cohen & Scott Frank; based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick.
Starring Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Steve Harris, Neal McDonough, Patrick Kilpatrick, Jessica Capshaw, Anna Maria Horsford, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Tim Blake Nelson, Lois Smith, Mike Binder, Jessica Harper, & Peter Stormare. Amblin Entertainment-Cruise/Wagner Productions-Blue Tulip Productions.
Rated PG-13. 145 minutes.
Action/Mystery/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2
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Steven Spileberg is one of those directors whose work usually calls me back to a specific time in life. The memorable cinematic experiences of my early days were informed by Jaws which is the reason for my fear of deep water, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and its long lasting effect on my strange interests (aliens, paranormal, so on; even though I’m a major sceptic), as well as the adventure and thrill I found in Raiders of the Lost Ark and of course the emotional ride that is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. So many times, Spielberg wowed my young mind, as he did to so many, many others long before me. And yet even while I grew up the classics kept on coming. Jurassic Park changed my life in terms of how I saw movies, that they could be action-oriented and full of science fiction, that the adult and childhood interests in dinosaurs could find a way to fuse in one exciting bit of fiction. On top of everything, Spielberg has dipped his talent into producing a vast number of projects, many of which are classics in their own right without him having taken the reins as director. So usually if his name is attached, I’ll watch a movie simply for that sake, no matter how it turns out.
Minority Report didn’t get ravaged by critics, in fact it generally received a positive turn out. Furthermore, the movie did well domestically and overseas; the profit was more than triple its budget of just over $100-million. At the same time, I feel it’s not as well remembered as it ought to be when considering how great a movie it is, from acting to the direction to the overall look and atmosphere. Reason being that 2002 was a massive year in film, including releases such as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Spider-Man, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Men in Black II, Die Another Day, Signs, The Count of Monte Cristo, and those are just the big ones. Getting lost in the cracks, Minority Report is one of Spielberg’s best post-2000, and one of the last legitimate dives into sci-fi that he took (until taking on duties for Ready Player One). There’s enough excitement and intrigue in this movie to fill a few of them. Cruise gives a solid performance, and Spielberg keeps us on the edge of our seats while we roam the futuristic landscapes of an America that feels not too far off. Ultimately, Spielberg and the writers explore Dick’s story while asking if the technological advancements our society is capable of can manage to outwit the corruption and moral weakness at the hands of the people tasked with using that very technology. The bottom line of Minority Report concerns morality, humanity among the advancements of science, and the will of man to do evil, despite all odds.
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The entire process of the Precrime system is a ton of fun. Spielberg really went to town on coming up with the whole thing. I’d like to know more about how the design was decided. Just that room where Cruise’s character does his thing with the screens, those tailor-made wooden, varnished balls, every last detail is incredibly fun. Of course part of this most likely comes from the original short story by Philip K. Dick, though as I understand it the story’s been changed a good deal. I don’t doubt Dick’s story definitely has plenty of the detail Spielberg then used to come up with the look of his Washington, D.C. law enforcement facility of the future. However, part of it is definitely the master filmmaker himself putting his mark upon the adapted material.
One thing I’ve always loved is the design of the roadways, even the cars themselves. The chase scenes are incredible. Funny how certain reviews out there, by professional critics, have claimed these scenes are silly. Really? Are we watching the same movie? Because these chase scenes are perfectly science fiction and every bit the epitome of action. Totally exciting. That first sequence where Cruise is jumping down across the various vehicles is heart pounding. As far as the visual effects go, there are only one or two slight missteps. When you’re not dealing in practical effects, CGI and the like can sometimes let you down. Luckily, these moments are seldom, only one or twice throughout the over two hour runtime. The large majority of the effects look great, keep the pulse thumping, and add another nice element to the dark, gritty nature of the story and its feel.
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A huge part of what interests me is the idea of the surveillance state. We’ve almost got this amplified version of the CCTV-laced streets in the U.K. in this future vision of Washington, D.C. and other areas. For instance, as Anderton first tries to get away he moves through the malls and the subway stations, and every screen nearby is flashing his name, speaking to him through personalised advertisements, the newspapers in other passengers’ hands read pop-up headlines about John and his Wanted status. Overall there’s a really great riff on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in that Dick, as well as the screenwriters here, further explore the concept of the ‘thoughtcrime’, the idea that basically forms the foundation of the Precrime Division and their precognitive awareness/action on crime.
This entire angle makes for incredibly interesting plot developments. The fact Anderton is tagged in every way to be recognised by all the various computer systems makes for a tough predicament. There’s an optical recognition system around the entire city, which heightens the police search, as it’s not as simple to just hide away when every street corner, every sidewalk is seemingly rigged to scan your eyeballs and go straight to the source for your identity. Eventually, John finds a doctor whose talents lie in the black market – eye surgeries, to be exact. That’s actually one of my favourite sequences, including a cameo for one of the best character actors Peter Stormare; the whole thing is dark, gritty, weird, it’s an awesome bit that adds to the atmosphere, and turns into a nice addition to the chase elements of the screenplay. What I love most about this whole part of the film is that it speaks to the loss of privacy, the great lengths to which some will go in the future to avoid all the intrusion on their personal lives by way of technology, and so on. Before the film released, Spielberg talked about the technology he envisioned for the movie, and it’s also interesting to note he usually consults a lot of technical experts when making science fiction in order to try and bring some degree of realism to the subject matter. So go check out the TED talk with John Underkoffler, a scientific adviser who worked with Spielberg on the film. Then try and tell me we won’t see more of that in the future. In turn, we’ll watch our privacy disappear, more and more. Online ads are already tailoring themselves to our Facebook and Twitter accounts, our personalised information that’s floating around inside the internet. Soon enough, we’ll walk down the street, just like Anderton, and find the screens looking out at us, scanning, tailoring their ads to who we are as people. Most of all, Minority Report isn’t merely thrilling action: it’s a scary vision of a future world towards which we are headed, if we’re not too careful.
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The performances are good, from Cruise in the lead to Farrell and Max von Sydow in their respective supporting roles. Above anything, the atmosphere is what makes this one for me. I love Spielberg’s movies and every one of them feels different, though each of them also has that same magic. Despite moving from genre to genre, as well as through many types of characters and stories, Spielberg always retains that classic style. No matter if the subject material and themes are dark, friendly and youthful, or if they explore a world completely foreign to our own, his films are all capable of transporting us into a sacred space, one beloved by many cinephiles around the globe. Minority Report is one of his best in recent years. There’s a constant excitement, even in the more low key moments. The pacing is exceptional and keeps the whole thing going, allowing Spielberg to stop between his big chase scenes to flesh out a deeply personal, emotional story involving a father and the loss of his son, the crumbling of the relationship with his wife, all of which is folded up in a wonderfully compelling sci-fi tale. Don’t sleep on this one. If you’ve yet to see it, get out and do yourself a favour. Especially if Spielberg gives you the nostalgia feeling in your stomach the way he does for me.

Indie Horror House Arrest Makes for a Dark Summer

Dark Summer. 2015. Directed by Paul Solet. Screenplay by Mike Le.
Starring Keir Gilchrist, Stella Maeve, Maestro Harrell, Grace Phipps, Dinora Walcott, and Peter Stormare. Campfire/ContentFilm International/Preferred Film & TV.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
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After the excellent little 2009 film Grace, I imagined director Paul Solet might go on to do other exciting things in the horror genre. There was a tender quality even to that nasty gem, which I found impressive. When a director can take a story that is truly horrifying and add in dashes of pure, raw emotion, it’s always a treat.
When I heard of Dark Summer, my first thought was Disturbia – the Shia LaBeouf film they actually reference early in this one. But quickly, after I got into the plot and the story started pulling me in the realization that Solet and writer Mike Le were doing something much different. Using a similar setup, with some changes of course, Le’s screenplay takes us into a much more supernatural and frightening space. Even while not everything is as good as it could be, this is a fairly solid indie horror-thriller. Particularly, I enjoy both Keir Gilchrist and Stella Maeve, who ultimately hold up a lot of the film. Add in an amazing score, the ever interesting Peter Stormare in a small supporting role, a few wild bits of horror, and Dark Summer is definitely worth a watch.
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Daniel (Keir Gilchrist) has been sentenced to house arrest over the summer. The young man evidently cyber-stalked and harassed a girl named Mona Wilson (Grace Phipps). The terms of his arrest: no visits from unaccompanied minors, no computer access or internet, the last of which are monitored by the police. Parole officer Stoke (Peter Stormare) keeps an eye on Daniel and explains how the house arrest works.
However, Daniel’s closest friends Abby (Stella Maeve) and Kevin (Maestro Harrell) come by with a tablet so he can connect to a nearby internet source, and bring him a little weed, bit of Ambien. Later on when Daniel tries to call his mom – the reason for the tablet – Abby calls. And a minute later, Mona Wilson; with whom Daniel is not supposed to have any contact. In a terrible twist of fate, Mona shoots herself in the head on camera while Daniel watches.
As things become more and more sinister, Daniel becomes aware that perhaps his harassment of Mona was not entirely his fault. Once Abby, Kevin and Daniel dig deeper into the mystery, black magic works its way into the equation, and anything they believed before goes out the window.Pic2
Immediately I was aware of the incredible music in Dark Summer. The score swells into a pounding rhythm in certain scenes, which holds us in excitement and suspense at various points. Other moments contain a score that stays just below the exterior, pulsing with the slow and steady feel of a current taking us along for the ride. Composer Austin Wintory is prolific, even if he isn’t well known. His music spans short films, video games (including the 2012 Journey and most recently Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate), television, and of course, feature films; he worked on Solet’s previous film Grace, as well. I can’t speak for all his other titles, but the work he does with Solet is truly exceptional. If anything, you’ll enjoy the creepy, slow burning feel of his score in this movie because it perfectly compliments what Solet was attempting to do. Part of the film’s charm is, no doubt, the music; undeniable.
Some of what Solet did was frightening. For instance, the quieter and more subtle moments where Daniel wanders his empty, dark home are tense, and these contributed to that overall slow burn of the film. Not everything needs to be a jump out and scare you scene, or jump-scare imagery. Solet does include some of that. Mostly, though, he sticks with the creeping feeling of these low-key moments, and the majority of them work. The horror got better as time went by. Above all else, it’s the thriller aspect of Dark Summer which works. As we follow along with Abby, Daniel and Kevin sussing out the mystery of Mona’s suicide, there’s a lot of macabre excitement. Following along with all the steps of what we later figure out is an elaborate dark spell, this makes up for any of those brief points where Solet doesn’t hit the mark exactly with other aspects. Furthermore, I liked the makeup and special effects, as everything fit the tone and atmosphere Solet was striving to achieve.
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As I mentioned, Gilchrist and Maeve each put in terrific performances, as did Stormare in his smaller role and also Harrell.
Gilchrist is a quiet type whose brooding nature comes across easily. He fits the bill of a young man who is withdrawn, not able to outright talk to girls and impress them. At the same time, he has an emotional side that is clear once we get to know the character of Daniel. I really enjoyed Gilchrist in It Follows, and here he impressed once more. The guy is a talented actor with range, which hopefully will get him more work as time goes on. He is certainly cut out for indie films with good talent and a unique sort of look; he isn’t weird looking, but has a look that sets him apart from so many other young male actors out there today.
I found Maeve did the best job of all in this film. She has a quiet disposition, which again fits her character well, too. She and Gilchrist have proper chemistry, and that helped on two fronts: the relationship of these two characters as friends, as well as Abby’s little crush on Daniel. There is an intensity to Maeve that comes across easily without her having to throw every bit of her acting arsenal at us constantly. Sometimes an actor can give the right looks, move the right way, and generally take on the right air of attitude, which Maeve does constantly here. Her caring nature helps to bring the character of Abby closer to Daniel, then as the film’s suspense and horror become more prevalent her performance goes with the flow accordingly, her character darkens and deepens. I’d love to see her do another horror, something even more solid than this, because there is a lot behind her eyes.
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With a few missteps, I still give Paul Solet’s Dark Summer a 3.5 out of 5 star rating. There could’ve been more intense sequences, but many of them present still affect the viewer. In a few scenes, the horror jumps out at us and takes on a life of its own. Most importantly, the drama and thriller portions of the movie are incredibly solid. Within a dark story we find many moments of tenderness, either from Daniel or Abby, or both, and this makes some of the more disturbing, terrifying scenes less shocking; not that this is needed, but it puts an interesting spin on the other elements when a morbid plot has linings of beauty. Regardless, Dark Summer holds it own in enough places that I enjoyed it, and would likely watch it again down the road. I’m interested to see what Solet does in the future, as he’s already put in a segment called “The Weak and The Wicked” for Tales of Halloween this past year. He is a uniquely talented director who will, hopefully, go on to more exciting, frightening, wild projects soon enough. Check this out and if you like slow burn indie thrillers, you’ll probably find surprise in these 81 minutes.

Clown Will Terrorize Your Childhood

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

★★★★
Clown-poster-2014-Jon-Watts 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.
35281Right 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.
CLW_1016The 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.
150318090554361716Funny 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.
Clown77_00_59_58_00025Even 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.