Clown (UK DVD)
Directed by Jon Watts
Distributed by Studiocanal
Real estate agent Kent (Powers) is a doting father to his son, Jack (Distefano), and devoted husband to his wife, Meg (Allen). Determined to ensure that his son’s 10th birthday party goes off without a hitch when the clown booked for the event is unable to show, Kent decides to don a costume and makeup that he has fortuitously found hidden in an old trunk in the basement of his latest property assignment.
Once the party is over, Kent finds himself having a hell of a time trying to get both the costume and the accompanying makeup to come off. He can’t remove the bulbous red nose, the pasty white face paint, the multicoloured wig, nor the full body suit no matter how hard he tries – much to the initial amusement of his wife.
It quickly becomes apparent that there’s absolutely nothing funny about this particular clown costume, nor Kent’s situation. Seeking the help of the reclusive and eccentric Mr. Karlsson (Stormare), whose brother owned the trunk and costume, Kent learns that the suit is actually the skin of a mythical child-eating creature… and it will soon consume him, transforming him into a slavering beast hungry for the flesh of the young.
he core concept of Clown is such a great one that it’s a real surprise it hasn’t been attempted previously (yes, we’ve had demonic, child-eating clowns before, but never quite like this). Director Watts and co-writer Christopher Ford set the story off at a rocketing pace, wasting very little time in getting Kent into the costume and off for a hell-ride, before slowing down in the second act to focus a little more on the personal effects of his metamorphosis.
And while there’s a consistent undercurrent of dark comedy playing throughout the whole piece, Clown is without a doubt an out-and-out horror film, mixing the body-horror elements of David Cronenberg’s The Fly with nods to the demonic possession genre. Watts refuses to play it safe when it comes to the gore, and especially when it comes to the death and mutilation of young children – something which is likely to catapult Clown to almost instant cult status.
From innocent, friendly young kids to spoilt-rotten schoolyard bullies, children are bitten, punctured, ripped apart and consumed on a semi-frequent basis – though Watts knows exactly what he’s doing, so while it’s undoubtedly shocking, it’s never gratuitous or mean-spirited. There’s always a knowing wink in the camera’s eye when one of the young ‘uns is dispatched.
The film’s snappy pace and consistent shocks are well held together by an enthralling mythology, delivered through Stormare’s engaging performance as Karlsson. He’s the kind of actor who does wild eccentricity exceptionally well – and he’s just as good as you’d expect here. Unfortunately, he isn’t around for anywhere near as long as you would hope. Besides him, Laura Allen is the main star of the show as the suffering wife, trying to come to terms with her husband’s affliction and, later, protect both herself and her child from him.
On the negative side of things, despite being the central character, Andy Powers isn’t really given a ton to do as Kent. For the most part, he’s an everyman, and he reacts to his situation like an everyman. The frustration and fear that he delivers feel authentic, but Clown doesn’t put quite enough effort into developing the family dynamic that would make the core tragedy at play here have more of an impact. Before we get much of a feel for Kent all-round, he’s mainly replaced by the scowling monstrous form demanding satiety by way of children – peeking through occasionally to beg for help. That’s not a failing of the actor at all… just a few script tweaks could have helped build a stronger emotional web for the film to operate in.
Taking centre stage above everything else, however, are Clown‘s creature design work and special effects, which are excellent across the board. That dark humour creeps in through the design, too, which features hilarious pastel-coloured blood first revealed as the punch line to an otherwise grim suicide attempt. The monster is inspired, with Kent’s suit gradually taking on a more organic, reptilian form as it adheres to his body. By the end the full transformation is in swing, and it’s a classical creature-feature sight to behold, party hat-shaped horn and all. It would have been nice to see it in action a little bit more than we do at the film’s finale, though.
Despite failing to truly bring itself home in terms of emotional impact, Clown is still one heck of an entertaining flick. Watts has crafted an effective shocker, sporting some great set-pieces – effectively turning an adventure playground into a claustrophobic hunting ground in one instance – in which nobody truly feels safe (especially the kids!). He ably keeps the tension mounting as Kent’s condition worsens and ultimately delivers some nice old-school, gore-soaked monster madness that’s painted with the blackest of wit.
Doing a disservice to the film, Studiocanal’s UK DVD release of Clown is a completely bare bones party. Not including some behind-the-scenes looks at the effects work (at the very least) feels like a grossly missed opportunity.