Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Clovehitch Killer (2018)

Teenage Tyler (Charlie Plummer) leads a rather overly protected life, directed by the wishes and opinions of his Evangelical conservative parents Don (Dylan McDermott) and Cindy (Samantha Mathis), and clearly not planning on rebelling against the course they set for him beyond some backseat fumbling with a girl from the church band. However, doing said (awkward) fumbling in his father’s car one night, the teenagers find a bondage porn picture in the car. Next thing Tyler knows, he has the reputation of being a perv, and starts to harbour doubts about his father’s lifestyle. As a matter of fact, he begins connecting his Dad to a serial killer of women known as Clovehitch (named after a type of knot he used) who was active in their town some years ago.

Tyler’s somewhat confused search brings him together with Kassi (Madisen Beaty), a girl obsessed with Clovehitch for reasons Tyler typically never questions. So, if Don truly is Clovehitch, what are Tyler and Kassi going to do about it, and what’s Don going to do to his son if he finds out?

Duncan Skiles’s The Clovehitch Killer is that rarest of things, a movie about a serial killer that doesn’t romanticize serial killers in one way or the other. In fact, one of the film’s core strengths lies in portraying its evil as banal, or at least quotidian in its way, avoiding being spectacular about Clovehitch or his murders. That’s not because the film thinks its serial killer is harmless. Rather, it understands that the true horror of its killer lies in the fact that he’s a perfectly normal seeming, if ultra-conservative, man who decently fits in a society that thinks itself decent also. Just that he can only gets his kicks when he’s tying up and murdering women, which, to him, quite clearly feels quotidian and normal, too. McDermott’s excellent performance really drives this aspect of the film home – there’s not attempt at trying to be horror movie creepy, or larger than life and Evil. Instead, the actor plays Don as just some guy, (with horrible secrets, obviously) but realizes that what’s inside him is not something written on a man’s face. On a horror level, this arguably makes the killer much more impressive and frightening than the usual eye-rolling and scenery-chewing would, giving Don a reality that’s truly disquieting.

The Clovehitch Killer clearly has its thoughts about what this fitting in with society of a killer has to say about the society itself, about all the other things hidden in plain sight. In fact, this is a film about secrets hidden in plain sight in more than one way. On a stylistic level, Skiles very often hides important details that will be revealed later to be found just outside the frame of a shot and the line of sight of his characters; suggesting that just one closer look, one move in a different angle, and all secrets can be revealed. In the plot, there are secrets just out of view (perhaps unconsciously ignored) all over: be it the motivation for Kassi’s obsession with Clovehitch, Tyler could learn if only he bothered asking, the way Tyler’s former best church friend is so clearly repressing that he’s gay, Tyler’s own unspoken frustration with the way he has to live even before the whole serial killer angle comes out. Just as much, this is a film about the way people in a society or a family (one mirroring the other) repress/have to repress these secrets, which will only lead to them coming out violently in the end.

At the same time, The Clovehitch Killer also works genuinely well as a quiet horror film, a variant on the kid detective mystery tale that reveals not that crotchety old Mr Smith has been dressing up as a Mummy to scare off the treasure hunters but that true, banal horror has been hiding in plain sight all along.

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