Clown

'Clown' movie poster

Release: Friday, June 17, 2016 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Jon Watts; Christopher D. Ford

Directed by: Jon Watts

Jon Watts’ body horror film, a production slotted directly between his much-acclaimed debut thriller Cop Car and his shot at making Spider-Man cool again (again) is simple and direct. Unfortunately Clown is so stripped down it pretty much fails to register at all, wasting a perfectly good transformation and concept in the process.

Icky but emotionally inert story features a loving father, Kent (Andy Powers), rescuing his son’s birthday party by putting on a clown costume he finds in storage when the paid entertainment fails to show. Kent begins exhibiting strange behavior after several failed attempts at removing the suit hours after the party reveal that it might not be a suit at all. As the story progresses we watch as Kent becomes subjected to a horrific physical transformation that his wife Meg (Laura Allen) is helpless to do anything about. Son Jack (Christian Distefano) is left wondering if this is all his fault. Eh, . . . it . . . kind of is . . . but hey, the poor kid had no idea daddy had just found demon skin in the garage.

While gritty effects work make Kent’s ordeal a little difficult to watch at the best of times, the overall concept fails to scare or really entertain. More problematic than anything else is that the effectiveness of said horror is predicated upon how strongly the actors deliver the goods. The concept is so simple that it all but demands heavy doses of humanity to get us to a place where we feel saddened by the radical changes. Instead we get cardboard cut-outs of characters who give estimates with their emotional responses. It doesn’t help that Allen’s role as a freaked out housewife boils down to ‘well, do I want my husband back or do I euthanize him?’

This particular clown comes complete with its own shaky, unconvincing mythology, the bulk of which is delivered by Peter Stormare‘s tacked-on supporting role as Herbert Karlsson, brother to Dr. Martin Karlsson, a cancer treatment specialist who designed the suit to entertain his young patients. Where the mythology falls apart is in trying to piece together how a Patch Adams get-up suddenly becomes the skin and hair of a child-eating demon. (There’s some nonsense about a malevolent spirit called the ‘Cloyne,’ or something.) This is the kind of logical gap that tends to cripple horror films, and that certainly is true of Clown as the story limps toward a thoroughly predictable and uninspired climax. A climax that merely proves whether that fucking suit will come off or not.

Clown never reaches the heights of what its admittedly twisted visuals hint toward. It never really comes close. Even when the true horror is revealed everything feels low-budget and in the worst way possible. Tonally Clown is unsure of itself, with comedic moments arising quite unintentionally — I highly doubt the whole episode with ripping off the red shiny nose was designed for yucks, unlike an earlier scene in which we see Kent, who is a realtor, stumbling onto another work site dressed still as a clown. No, at the moment of nose- and hair-rippage we’ve left the comedy well behind. Again, in theory.

I look at Jon Watts’ direction in the same way I do the simplicity of Tom Petty songs. That’s not necessarily good for Watts. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have operated for years with one simple motto that has helped their success endure: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” Watts takes this philosophy to heart, sacrificing relationship-building for a quick, easy payoff. It doesn’t work.

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Recommendation: Body horror film fails to creep audiences out in any significant way. Despite the premise revolving around one of the creepiest things imaginable — clowns — the mythology behind this one clown suit is laughably poor and uninteresting. Not a film to flock to for performances. Nor memorable storylines. It has some good, bloody effects but that’s about all I can recommend about Jon Watts’ Clown

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “Jack, you have to kill your daddy.” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Hush

'Hush' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 8, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Mike Flanagan; Kate Siegel

Directed by: Mike Flanagan

What you don’t hear definitely can hurt you in Hush, Mike Flanagan’s second consecutive exploration of the human sensory system and how much we depend on it, especially in stressful situations.

In 2013 Flanagan emphasized, even obsessed over visual stimuli, how one’s mind has the ability to play tricks on the eye when it comes to seeing things that may or may not be there. The title Oculus should ring a bell, even if its vaguely silly plot about a rogue antique mirror that kills people, does not. Flanagan now seems poised to be taken a little more seriously, cutting a nifty slice of indie horror based around auditory senses, or the lack thereof.

Hush pits a young mute woman named Maddie (Kate Siegel) against a psychotic stalker (John Gallagher, Jr.) that appears at her back door late one evening. We find ourselves in an unnamed and unidentified location, some thickly wooded area better off not named. Here Maddie’s been living a quiet life in isolation, one that she claims she didn’t choose but rather was forced upon her since complications from a surgery many years ago rendered her permanently deaf. She seems to be getting along well despite being completely on her own, and despite her struggles to complete a second horror novel. (She’s already published one.)

Flanagan wastes preciously little time propping up the pieces that will hold the conflict in place. In hindsight, introductions could have been a little less mechanical — we see Maddie chat with a neighbor briefly about that book — although there’s really no reason to dilly-dally since the premise is so pure and uncomplicated. But during this fleeting calm we get to know and care about our protagonist. Siegel’s committed performance, including some emphatic signing, reveals much about her personality, Maddie’s intelligence and passion for writing evident above all but we can tell she’s still trying to recover from something emotionally. She seems vulnerable and distant. That vulnerability takes on an entirely new meaning when we first see her tormentor, a chilling shot that demonstrates why her lack of hearing is a potentially fatal disadvantage.

Let’s talk about the home invader, shall we, because he’s something of a nightmare. Armed with a compound bow and a facemask, Gallagher (credited simply as ‘The Man’) feels like he just sauntered over to the next house after the events of You’re Next (I guess he’d need an animal mask if he was really wanting to fit in). The change of pace seems to be a good thing for the up-and-comer, even if his iciness is a trait that takes some time getting used to (maybe it’s the lack of a beard and a shaven head that does it). Even if his character’s backstory is nonexistent — where is he coming from? why is he doing this? just who is this guy? — his psychosis isn’t to be questioned. Here is a man whose depravity knows no bounds.

Plus, that aura of mystery that first seemed like lazy writing comes back to haunt us later. We want to go digging for answers, any lame justification as to why this man might want to make Maddie suffer, but that’s a fruitless effort. Some people are just no good. That there doesn’t appear to be any kind of personal vendetta means there’s little reasoning with the guy and without reason there can be no comfort. To Maddie’s credit, she does try.

To Siegel’s credit, who also co-wrote the script with Flanagan, her resilient performance is destined to hush the skeptics, those who write off contemporary horror as lazy cash grabs utterly disinterested in offering up intriguing characters (to be fair and as a skeptic myself, they have a valid point with a great many releases). Hush works primarily because of its characters; it’s certainly less ambitious in other aspects. Too often there comes a pause where you think ‘what the hell is the guy doing right now? Why doesn’t he come in and end this now?’ Indeed, the mind is going to wander where it shouldn’t, and that’s an unfortunate result of the story focusing so intensely on how Maddie reacts to a situation that goes from bad to worse. If we’re assuming events are unfolding in real-time, there’s a lot of downtime and that fact becomes quite the distraction.

But this game of cat-and-mouse is too compelling, too tightly-wound to worry about nitpicks like that. You could poke enough holes in the script to make it look like swiss cheese before writing it off as something you’d rather not watch. Hush is so impressive in the way it integrates an atypical character into a more familiar narrative. Not once do you feel bad for Maddie simply because she can’t hear — you fear for her life when that fact actually becomes a threat to her safety, but never do you pity her. She’s a strong and independent woman willing to do what it takes to overcome her terrible situation, willing to do anything other than lay down and die.

What kind of an ending is Maddie going to be able to write for herself? The answer can be found if you’re willing to sit through some seriously uncomfortable silence.

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Recommendation: Hush offers the jaded/casual fan of modern horror another reason to give the genre another go; it’s a character-driven piece with some crucial sound design and editing that rewards more often than not and while there could have been some more substantial development early on, the great performances and unique circumstances are enough to overcome a few shortcomings. If you liked Oculus, you should definitely Flanagan’s latest a shot. Exclusively on Netflix.

Rated: R

Running Time: 87 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Creep

Release: Tuesday, June 23, 2015

[Netflix]

Written by: Patrick Brice; Mark Duplass

Directed by: Patrick Brice

Creep is Brice’s directorial debut, pairing the writer-director with master of strange Mark Duplass of mostly independent film fame. As with his sophomore effort The Overnight the less I mumble on, the higher Creep‘s potential to surprise becomes. And if I’m not just going crazy, Brice seems to like it creepy. Both features thus far feature a substantial amount of pure, unbridled . . . weirdness. (Though The Overnight might eclipse this clearly more modestly budgeted production in that regard.)

But where The Overnight disconcerted viewers by forcing them to bear witness to a pair of thirtysomethings slowly embracing and then taking social improprieties to a whole new level, Creep has very little, if any, basis upon which one could judge socially acceptable behavior. It has this kind of detachment that sets the film distinctly away from normality. The film starts off in a car with a videographer named Aaron (Brice) headed for the rolling hills of Nowheresville, USA to interview someone for . . . something. He’s hoping his subject is a woman, since the only description of the job given is that “discretion would be appreciated.”

Using his handheld camera as the only means of connecting with us, Aaron soon seems like a saint compared to his subject, a lonely man named Josef (Duplass) who comes across as unstable from the get-go. Creep follows Aaron as he gets to know his subject over the course of a single day, and while the usual nitpicks against found footage are on display — I advise against eating while watching because the shaky cam could have an adverse effect — the device is incredibly effective. In places it’s downright chilling.

Brice may be wielding it more often than not but aside from Duplass his recording device is the real star of the film. It’s a unique conduit of information, and not simply for the obvious. The visuals put in front of us are as important as the things we cannot see — a reaction on Aaron’s part; a physical change in perspective. These help build upon Creep‘s steadily ominous and even darkly comic atmosphere. I’m more comfortable placing a stronger emphasis on the former though.

There are a few moments that reveal the inherent flaw of shooting found footage style of course, like when the camera continues rolling when the user ought to just be . . . well . . . . Let’s just say he’s got higher priorities than guiding us through a particular room at a certain point. But this is an issue easily covered up by the strong work turned in by the epitome of a tight-knit cast. It’s just Brice and Duplass in this one. Suffice it to say, Duplass will be difficult to look at the same way again after watching him take this dark turn.

So there I was at the end of the film, standing in the back of this hypothetical screening, applauding emphatically. Maybe that was me making up for my previous indiscretion for trying to leave early. But thank goodness for Brice, for showing not only his ability to make wise decisions with the style but for realizing opportunities to avoid its many pitfalls. Creep may not last long but it is enough.

Recommendation: Living up to its title spectacularly, Creep is light on runtime but dark in tone and refreshingly original. The found footage genre still has life left in it yet! Pick this one up if you’re in the mood for something chilling, and for a great performance from Mark Duplass. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 82 mins.

Quoted: “Tubby time.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com