I’m a huge fan, but regardless of how you feel about Eli Roth, Clown proves the director has a sense of humor. The production for the film began in the strangest of places, through a faux trailer. Since Grindhouse (2007) it is not that unlikely that a film’s production would begin with a fake trailer. Robert Rodriguez went on to make Machete (2010) and its sequel and Jesse Eisener adapted his award winning trailer Hobo With A Shotgun (2011) into a feature as well. What makes Clown different is that its director Jon Watts actually attached Eli Roth’s name to it without him knowing. When this happened it forced Roth to take notice. He couldn’t believe how “ballsy” Jon was and gave Clown the attention it deserved.
Even with Eli Roth set to produce, Jon Watts was an unlikely candidate for a horror filmmaker. A series of comedic shorts paved his way toward working for The Onion News Network where he honed his skills as a satirist filmmaker. After his experience with The Onion he made two TV movies: The Fuzz (2011) and Eugene! (2012). His next project was Our Robocop Remake (2014) which was a fan fueled re-imagining of the beloved hero. With these credits it seems odd that he would approach a horror film especially with such vigor in his marketing. As the old saying goes: horror and humor go hand in hand.
Clown doesn’t waste any time, within a few minutes our leading man Kent (Andy Powers) has the suit on and entertains at his kids birthday party. From the trailer, we know all we need to. Kent will not be able to get the suit off and it will transform him into something deadly. The dark humor plays into Kent’s various attempts to rid himself of the silly costume. He tries to cut it off with a utility knife, but instead slashes his wrist open. He also uses a saw to no avail. His wife comes the closest when she rips the tip of his nose off. Each of these segments play out like a traumatizing Looney Tunes skit. The true plot soon kicks in and seems to slow down everything. It is nearly a Sisyphean task to juggle comedy with slaughter, some people have a natural knack for it, while others let the laughs die down before the true horror begins. While the narrative tells us that Kent is actually becoming a demon, it would be nice to focus more on his transformation. Eli Roth compared Clown to Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) for good reason. The Fly began to focus more on Geena Davis when Seth was becoming Brundlefly and here the same shift occurs. We do get to see a few landmarks in the transition, but as viewers we will always want more.
The mythology that Clown provides for the demon incubating within Kent is a fascinating story. The Clown (Cloyne) is an ancient entity that was said to dwell in caves and lure children to eat – more specifically, five children; one for each of the winter months. The suit that Kent puts on is actually skin from the Cloyne. As I mentioned, Jon first plays this off as comedy – which is only right. The thought of having to go on with your daily routine with a rainbow perm and a big honking red nose is comedy gold. As the film goes on, there is more to the costume than it being a demon or clown. It is a representation of the persistence of persona. We know nothing about Kent except for the roles that he’s chosen in life. He is a husband, father, and a real estate agent. Through his actions we learn he is impulsive and irresponsible – by picking up and putting on an ugly costume he found in a mysterious trunk. He believes he loves his son and will do anything for him, but it seems as though he’s always late and never there for him (his father-in-law looks down on him for these characteristics). We never see Kent interact with his son without the clown suit. Granted, we as an audience only see him without makeup for a few seconds. The costume enables Kent to spend time with his son and to provide the children joy. His son enjoys that his father is now a clown and even his wife laughs it off. Only Kent cannot find the humor in the persona he has assumed. He fights it by attempting removal, insofar as he actually harms himself in the process. The demon that he becomes was always there, only after he learns the history of the suit does his transformation take hold. He becomes a part of the mythology only after he tastes the blood of a child.
Clowns are terrifying because of the masks they wear. Their painted faces are frozen in an expression of joy. The character they become with the oversized shoes, bright colors, and smiles is a facade. In an extreme version of this look at John Wayne Gacy. The joyful exuberance covered the deranged psychopathy underneath. Kent put on the costume of a husband/father/agent the same as he put on the clown outfit. Only through wearing the demon skin did he find a perfect fit. With his costumed normalcy he was inadequate, but becoming a Cloyne with the thirst for murdering children he finally assumed a role he could perform extremely well.
Jon Watts delivers dark humor and ample amounts of realistic gore. Clown is a must see bloodbath with building tension and a penchant for breaking that old taboo that says: don’t kill children on film. While his film tells you exactly what is happening to Kent, there is room to view past the mythology and see the real life demons. This child murdering clown eats his victims whereas the ones in real life do far worse. If we knew more about Kent’s past we may uncover the disturbing truth that all it took was a break from normality to become a monster.
I’m interested to see Watts’ next film Cop Car with Kevin Bacon.