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Clown | Blu-ray Review

Jon Watts ClownDirector Jon Watts’ 2014 horror film Clown stands as the writer/director/producer’s feature debut, even though it arrived well after his moderately hailed sophomore effort Cop Car (2015). Released in several Euro and Asian countries prior to a June, 2016 release (where Dimension Films collected just over fifty-five thousand at the domestic box office), the Eli Roth produced title is an innovative example of a ridiculous premise enhanced by uncomfortable body horror. Ultimately, there isn’t much here by way of narrative to justify a feature length title (as Watts based the film on his own 2010 short), hampered by a repetitive and vague third act which negates the surprisingly serious fortitude instilled in the set-up. Still, in a genre continually hobbled by glossy technological capabilities and endless rehashes of past material, Watts at least starts off with a unique concept for a calling card in this sometimes grisly tale about a family man who dons a clown costume for his son’s birthday party, but finds he can’t remove the outfit…no matter how hard he tries.

When their hired entertainment backs out at the last minute for their son’s sixth birthday party, Meg (Laura Allen) calls her husband Kent (Andy Powers) in a panic. Luckily, he’s a real estate agent who just sold a home with a basement full of old clothes, including, miraculously, a clown costume. Basking in his success as an attentive husband and father for his performance as Dummo the Clown, Kent falls asleep in the warm glow of admiration on his couch, but wakes up in exactly the same place the next morning to discover not only can he not remove the clown costume, but the make-up, big red nose and curly multi-colored wig are seemingly stuck as well. In fact, they seem to have become part of him, like a new layer of skin, because whenever he tries something drastic to remove the costume, Kent seriously hurts himself. While his wife is unsure if her husband is losing his mind, Kent also notices other troubling issues…like an insatiable hunger for children. As the transformation intensifies, Kent also seems to lose any semblance of his identity. Luckily, he is able to contact Karlsson (Peter Stormare), the man who sold the house where he found the costume. Except Karlsson informs Kent of his dire situation by confirming the costume is curse, and is the reason his brother, a successful physician, perished. The costume is part of an old Nordic myth involving a killer Clown, who must be satiated by eating five children or have its host decapitated.

The real problem with Clown, which is evident from the outset, is how unrealistically everyone behaves towards Kent once his inability to take off the costume has been established as a reality (a distraction which should be blamed on Watts and his cowriter Christopher Ford). Powers gives a committed performance, but nothing seems very logical, despite the mounting nightmare of his metamorphosis causing squeamishness due to some great make-up and perverse moments involving the murder and cannibalizing of children.

In the second half, the usually befuddled Peter Stormare lends his particular brand off goofball energy to provide all the necessary exposition regarding the clown costume. But too many plot holes and clunky transitions (including a pointless domestic drama involving his wife, a forgettable role for Laura Allen, and Kent’s domineering father-in-law) marks the characters and their set dressing beyond the clown drama as merely a crunchy assembly of suburban milquetoast afterthoughts.

Disc Review:

The film’s Blu-ray transfer arrives in widescreen 2.40:1, with DP Matthew Santos creating an unassuming and increasingly grungy visual flavor as the protagonist’s tribulations become more violent and desperate. There’s a certain degree of cheapness to the production design, which lends the proceedings a low-fi, sometimes claustrophobic affect beneficial for the type of sleazy grindhouse body horror peppered throughout.

Making Clown:
Producer Eli Roth is featured in this six and half minute segment on the making of the film.

Final Thoughts:

Not surprisingly, this wasn’t screened for critics upon its limited theatrical release (with rumors of the studio burying it in anticipation of Watts’ tackling of the latest installment of the Spiderman franchise). Although Clown has significant issues, it will most likely inspire the kind of revulsion most modern horror films are unable to attain.

Film Review: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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