Contributed by Lola Tarantula
Lon Chaney once said, “There’s nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight.” For their 2014 film, Clown, Director Jon Watts and producer Eli Roth have taken this old adage to heart. Clown takes society’s fear of clowns to a whole new level. The old trope is repackaged and transformed into what is essentially a werewolf/transformation film. It’s a fresh concept that almost reaches its potential.
Clown stars television actor Andy Powers as mild mannered realtor, Kent. Kent is a typical suburban man until he puts on an antique clown costume he discovered in a house he is selling. It’s all fun and games until Kent realizes that the suit won’t come off. In one particularly comical scene he attempts to cut the suit off with a handsaw and the saw breaks. The wig morphs into his own hair, his skin takes on the bleached appearance of the clown makeup. Desperate, he’s finally able to track down help. He meets with a man named Karlsson who sells vintage costumes. Karlsson explains that the modern clown is derived from a demon called a Cloyne. The cloyne lived up in the mountains. The cold temperatures made its nose red and its skin pale. It would consume five children during the winter season before hibernating. Karlsson reveals that the costume Kent is wearing is made from the skin of a cloyne, and that by putting it on Kent will become possessed by the cloyne. From there on it’s a descent into complete mayhem as Kent struggles to control his urges to feast on the flesh of children.
The best part of Clown is that it manages to be quite comedic without decaying into silliness. Jon Watts manages to walk the tightrope and maintain a perfect balance. Despite the film’s looney plot, it’s still a horror film and it’s still creepy at a genuine “Are there clowns in my bedroom?” level. While there is a bit of Eli Roth’s wacky influence present, Watts makes it clear that Clown is his film. By eschewing Roth level gore, he prevents the film from being reduced to a parody. None of the children are ever shown being eaten. His restraint is admirable, because the film could’ve easily gone in a campier direction. That’s not to say there isn’t any gore. In one gruesome scene, Kent’s wife attempts to remove his clown nose and ends up taking a large chunk of skin with her.
The performances are all compelling. Laura Allen adds a certain spark to her role as Andy’s wife, Meg. Her character is rather flat, but she manages with what she’s given. Peter Stormare is quirky and amusing as Karlsson, but his acting never seems excessive. However, Andy Powers is the one who steals the show. Powers is likeable and seems like your everyday Joe. It’s easy to feel for him. He brings a vulnerability to the character that seems effortless. Even when he’s on the verge of chomping down an unsuspecting child he still manages to convey a dose of humanity.
While Clown is solid, it’s easy to see the missed opportunities. With its unique premise, Clown seems like it should be more. The film requires an extra layer of depth. There is so much potential for Kafka-esque surrealism. Every acclaimed transformation story is ripe with metaphor. In this aspect the film is lacking. The audience is left feeling like they’re riding a rollercoaster without any high drops or loops. It’s still fun, but something feels like it’s missing.
Despite, a couple gaffs, Clown is more than worthy of a watch. It clips along at a good pace and never becomes dull. The uncanny image of a clown in suburbia is a treat for audiences who have been bombarded by too many ghosts, zombies, and vampires. (Not that I don’t love those too!) Most critics panned the film, but it has a lot going for it. With a solid cast, tight script, and delightful creature effects is a superb flick to watch in bed on a Friday night.
Note: Clown is currently unavailable in the United States. Viewers with Hola can find it on Mexico’s Netflix.