Despite seeming like different topics all together, there are quite a few similarities between a movie like Clown and the numerous ‘doll horror’ films that have come out in the past few years. While dolls are creepy enough on their own, their association with creepiness has been so well established that their appearance in a horror film almost seems ridiculous. The same is true of clowns. Both dolls and clowns can be fun additions to build tone, but neither of them necessarily seem like they are layered enough to carry an entire movie.
The premise to Clown initially seems silly, but the movie completely commits to its premise, saving it from being completely unbearable. Essentially, the idea is that when a clown cancels on a 6-year-old boy’s birthday party, the boy’s father (Andy Powers) puts on a clown costume he found in a dead guy’s house to save the day. However, after the party, he finds out that the clown costume sticks to his skin and won’t come off. From here, the film turns to transformational horror as the man turns into a child-eating demon.
The biggest reason Clown succeeds is its detailed mythology. The movie creates a reality where the original origin of clowns were as evil demons that ate five children each winter. It commits to this reality and backstory so that there are a defined set of rules for the film to follow. Because it has rules, it has structure and reason. Thus, even when the ideas are a little ridiculous, the audience is able to suspend disbelief because the movie doesn’t wink. It’s just how this world operates.
Unfortunately, this defined world is also Clown’s downfall. The film introduces quite a few ideas, but they don’t all pay off in the end. Many of the introduced concepts fall to the wayside by movie’s conclusion and the film picks the easiest possible way out. As the stakes are raised, the film seems to shrink instead of grow. This leads to the movie feeling a little unsatisfactory afterward.
However, there are some moments in the movie that are genuinely scary. On top of some reasonably well done jump scares, there is some insanely creepy imagery. Clowns can be frightening, but Clown creates a creature that is not only unsettling, but horrifying. Because the movie is a transformation horror, part of the fun is experiencing these changes at the same time the main character is. Although it takes a little while to get on board, but the 2nd act all of the freak-outs seem completely justified.
It’s not even that the movie is bad, it just doesn’t reach its full potential. Although it was even produced by Eli Roth, the silliness of the premise seems to be just too much for the film to overcome its name recognition and reach more theaters. The audience is initially tenuous towards what happens, and while the movie’s commitment toward itself buys the audience in, Clown’s ultimate undoing is its failure to stick the landing. Clowns are creepy alright, but they aren’t enough to carry a movie on its own.