Well, Eli Roth certainly knows which pies to put his fingers in.
Clown, directed by Jon Watts and produced by gorno prince Eli Roth, is a Canadian-American body horror film that’s just about the best movie I’ve seen in the last few months.
Originally released in 2014 in Italy, and 2015 in the UK, Clown has only just found its way over to the States. And although I’m not a Yank, I usually get into stuff about the same time they do, so here we are. Call me blinkered, but I guess that’s just my demographic.
Clown is about a dad, Kent McCoy, played by Andy Powers, who gets stuck inside a clown suit. And that’s because it’s not a costume: it’s a demon’s skin; a demon from Nordic mythology, Cloyne, that lived up in the mountains and ate children. Kent stumbles across the costume in a chest in the basement of one of his properties. The rent-a-clown for his son’s birthday is a no-show, so Kent decides to put it on and rush home to do the job instead.
And there starts the madness- the disgusting, bloody madness.
That probably all sounds a bit silly, and that’s because it is. But make no mistake: this is not a film to be scoffed at. Yes, the premise is ludicrous, but Watts engages with it in a way that is both novel, emotionally weighty and responsible. Clown is equal parts absurdist Cronenbergian body horror and anguished Kafkaesque tragicomedy; a gory trip into the supernatural depths of a fictional Norse legend, that takes a buzz saw and a big heart along for the ride.
Everything rests on the broad and capable shoulders of a truly talented main cast; Laura Allen, who plays Kent’s wife, and Christian Distefano, who plays their young son, deserve particular praise. Distefano goes above and beyond what is expected of an actor his age, convincing us with every line and every face. Allen flawlessly matches both Powers’ possessed patriarch and the wonderful Peter Stormare’s ‘guy who knows exactly what’s going on and why and has all the answers’ (but this time he’s not a priest- he’s a Swede!) Herbert Karlsson, and deserves heaps of praise for committing so fully to a concept that could have easily let itself go too far and get too serious. And we have the cast and the writers to thank for the fact that it doesn’t.
The film turns on an admirably competent dime, trading dark comedy and body horror for purist tension and suspense without so much as a stumble. I’m happy to admit that my heart was in my throat throughout the entire back half of the movie.
Clown looks great, too. The cinematography is clean and crisp, and the costumes, the practical effects, the blood, the guts, the viscera and Matthew Santo’s morbid rainbow palette are a treat for the eyes and a turn for the stomach. Matt Veligdan’s soundtrack is in perpetual panic mode, and in tandem with Robert Ryang’s rhythmic editing, it ratchets up the tension, scene by scene, until one finally explodes with confetti-colored blood and bone fragments.
The film is brilliantly self-aware, and plays around creatively with its undeniably silly premise. There’s a way to be sincere without being completely serious about your concept, and Clown does it perfectly. Unlike James Wan’s unoriginal horror tripe, Clown makes you feel and fall about laughing with sick delight all at once; it knows its premise is ridiculous, and that’s what makes it so clever.
As for the ultimate point, I’m not entirely sure. It’s complicated, and maybe even a little provocative; suffice it to say that there are a lot of different things going on: pedophilia, abuse, homelessness, mental illness, etc. etc. It’s not explicit, but it’s there if you want to read it.
I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Clown is everything a horror movie should be, and more. This is a true genre gem; not a meandering art-house flabbergast like The Witch, but an effortless, kinetic fright-fest, with blood and gore to the rafters and a gloriously macabre sense of humor. You’ll be laughing yourself off the sofa one minute, and behind it the next. What more could you ask for?