"The problem with Clown is that, beyond that premise, there really isn't very much of substance."

Coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns, affects an estimated 10% of adults in Western countries. For some it's just a deep seated sense of unease, a discomfort about not knowing who is behind the white make-up and red nose, not knowing what they're really thinking. For others it's an intense terror that makes even the sight of circus trappings upsetting. It's unlikely that many people in the latter group will go to see this film, which is aimed squarely at those in the former but may also make new coulrophobics among the general population.

The plot, such as it is, hinges on a clown costume which principal protagonist Kent (Andy Powers) finds in one of the houses his real estate company is handling. As the entertainer booked for his son Jack's birthday party has just cancelled, he puts it on in order to fill in and save the day. Unfortunately, when he tries to take it off again, it won't budge. Enter Peter Stormare as an old man who knows the costume's terrible secret and who warns that, unless he submits to decapitation, Kent will soon find himself possessed by a demon with a hunger for the flesh of children. As the tale progresses, Kent's pregnant wife (Laura Allen) strives to find a way to save him and to keep Jack out of the demon's reach.

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Clown originated with a fake trailer that named Cabin Fever's Eli Roth as its producer. This was the first Roth had heard of it, but he was sufficiently impressed by the ballsiness of the move that he agreed to take the job, and his presence can be felt throughout the film, which delivers plenty of gore even though it actually shows very little direct violence. The early scenes are the most disturbing, as what seems like a trivial, ridiculous problem gradually becomes more distressing. Powers is excellent as a man shifting from disbelief to panic and beyond. It's thanks to his and Allen's performances that we accept the basic premise of the film.

The problem with Clown is that, beyond that premise, there really isn't very much of substance. It painstakingly builds up a mythology that's ultimately far too close to many other genre films' mythologies, then does nothing with it, bypassing the opportunity for endings more in keeping with that aesthetic and instead sticking strictly to the slasher formula. Occasional brilliant moments along the way - the tense basement encounter between father and son, the Alien sequence recreated in a kids' play centre - can't redeem an underlying ordinariness that lets the central idea go to waste. That said, it's not at all bad as the first major feature from director Jon Watts, and it suggests that he may have interesting things to offer once he's ready to go his own way.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2015
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A father puts on a clown costume for his son's birthday but then discovers he can't take it off - and worse, it's possessed by a demon.

Director: Jon Watts

Writer: Christopher D Ford, Jon Watts

Starring: Andy Powers, Laura Allen, Peter Stormare, Eli Roth, Christian Distefano

Year: 2014

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: US, Canada


Glasgow 2015

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