Clown, in short, is about a loving father who one day, when trying to do the right thing for his kid, puts on the wrong clown costume and ends up slowly becoming a child chomping demon.
The film started life as a mock-trailer for a non-existent Eli Roth film who, to his credit, when he saw the trailer, contacted the film-makers and asked if he could help produce it as a feature.
The film has a killer idea behind it, all pun intended. The idea of trying to do the right thing, putting on a clown outfit for your kid's Birthday, slowly realising you can't take it off, red nose and rainbow curly wig included, then it fusing to you and changing you into the most violent and despicable of all things, a child killer. I applaud the idea. Yes we've had TV episodes, films and horror stories about Halloween costumes coming to life or killing the wearer but this is that idea mixed with what should be everyone's first fear: clowns.
Let's cut to the chase. Clown is a good film, a fine film, a film you should definitely check out if you're a horror fan sick of remakes and tedious ghost/possession films but it really could've been a great one. Almost all the ingredients are there but somewhere in the middle, it sort of loses its way.
What positives there are in Clown can be found in the opening act. Andy Powers as Kent/The Clown is tremendous and attempts to wring all the humour and horror from his peculiar predicament. Similarly, the script, too, starts strong and has a nice mix of tones, darting between the comedic and the rising dread of the weird situation. Lastly the building atmosphere of panic and claustrophobia as the the costume takes hold is done very well. There are a few attempts to remove the costume that had me happily squirming in my seat and yelling No No NO! at the screen. It's what every horror fan lives for.
Other reasons to love the movie are scattered throughout the running time. They include the practical, gory, gruesome and excellent practical effects and make-up, a couple of genuinely well put together and executed set pieces (especially the one inside the tubes of a child's play set at a Chuck E Cheese), a funny, weird and sick joke concerning the family dog and its own problems (which could've been revisited more than the couple of times it is) and, of course, the always welcome presence of Peter Stormare who plays the horror staple of "the older character who knows what's going on and possibly how to stop it".
Where Clown falls down is in two major areas. One is with the direction and camera work. On the plus side there's no shaky cam and the use of tripods and dollys was most welcome. However the film looks plain, I hate to say it but boring even, like a particularly cheap episode of some British detective drama like Midsummer Murders as if it was filmed on a council estate in Slough (where the original, British sitcom 'The Office' was set).
Now I understand that part of the appeal of the story is the idea that this is just an average man, a realtor, a father, a husband, with a condo and all the beige tedium that comes with it, who is going through an extraordinary thing. That I totally understand. It definitely works, initially, to effectively establish the predicament he finds himself in but as he changes, so should the film. Once he becomes a violent clown and is off alone, hiding, trying to do what he can to not kill kids, the direction and cinematography should've matched the weird ideas and the splatter effects.
This could, of course, just be a matter of taste. I was raised on the horror of Stuart Gordon, Sam Raimi, John Carpenter, Wes Craven et al. Their horror was somehow dark, gritty, grimy and gooey but also bright, stylised, influenced by the gothic horrors of the 50s and the operatic Italian giallos of the 70s, full of colour, camera angles and spooky effects. The modern, camcorder, so-called, realistic horrors of snooze-fests like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity hold very little appeal for me. Clown is somewhere in the middle with the effects and a couple of sequences coming close to the horrors of the past but sadly, mostly being more like the slow, pedestrian, unimaginative and unstylised shooting of more recent horror films or bad television. I could've done with a wind machine, a dutch angle, some eerie colour gels, some contrasting shadows and some unnecessary under-lighting. This is surprising too because director Jon Watts made the fantastic Cop Car, which was much more visually stimulating and effective.
Now, to be clear, I don't want pretty pictures just for the sake of pretty pictures. The transformation Kent's character goes through, the horrific acts he does and the scares that could come from them, would all be served much, much better by some more inventive camera work.
The other area where Clown sort of falters a little definitely works in tandem with the look, style and atmosphere of the film and that's the script and story in the second half.
Once our tragic protagonist becomes a clown demon with murderous impulses, the drive of the story grinds to a hault and they don't really know where to go from there or how to build to a climax. There is a little back n forth between Kent being alone/murdering/trying to kill himself and his wife (the not-particularly engaging Laura Allen) teaming up with Peter Stormare and trying to find him/stop him but none of it feels urgent enough, scary enough or upsetting enough. Not that it needs more kills or more gore or anything but that it needs to maintain the pace of the hunt for Kent on one side and it needs to better explore Kent's conflict and horror on the other, as he begins to do the unthinkable.
It's a real shame as the film certainly has lots of great ideas but almost doesn't either have the time to explore them or doesn't know how to fit them satisfactorily into a driving, tension filled narrative. It would almost work better as a Tales from the Crypt/Twilight Zone type short film rather than a feature.
There is clearly effort, attention and passion put into the film though and Jon Watts is definitely still one to watch as the tension and situation in his other feature, Cop Car, played out beautifully. Sadly though I see on IMDB he has already been poached by Marvel to direct the next Spiderman reboot/remake/re-imagining and so all hopes of a burgeoning, intriguing and odd career making well-intentioned genre films full of weird ideas have already been dashed on the Disney studio walls. I hope he proves me wrong with a 'one-for-them, one-for-me' type career.
If Clown had been made in the late 80s it would be a fun, schlocky, horror comedy adored by fans today, sadly it was made in the 2010s and along the way we've told ourselves horror should be bland and boring rather than crazy, wild and vibrant.
Clown is available on DVD/Blu-Ray in the US on August 23rd 2016 and I, personally, would still definitely check it out as there are enough good ideas, a few effective sequences and some impressive make-up, to just about win the day.
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