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.
Hating clowns is pretty much a religious observance in Western culture. No one really needs to explain, ‘I hate clowns’, and no one ever seems to be indifferent to them, let alone like the things, save for women of a certain age who are into naff figurines; it’s weird, though, that so many people have an opinion on something they haven’t ever seen first-hand in their original environment. I don’t know many people who’ve even been to the circus or ever had clowns turn up to entertain them at parties, or if they have, it’s certainly not frequent and/or traumatic enough to create a genuine aversion to them. In fact, most folk seem to encounter clowns primarily through the medium of horror movies, in which case, it’s like saying you have a phobia of masked killers. Of course you fucking do.
Regardless, ‘coulrophobia’ is an accepted Thing, everyone seems to have it, and it forms the basis of a lot of films like Clown (2014), which itself is based on a mock trailer. The original filmmakers, Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford, mocked up this trailer and added that it was ‘from master of horror Eli Roth'; it wasn’t, at the time, but Roth saw it and liked the idea, getting on board as a producer to make the film into a real feature, directed by Watts. The end result is what we have here.
clownFollowing in the footsteps of the faux trailer, things begin to happen when someone double-books a clown meant to entertain at young Jack’s birthday party. Mom telephones dad, Kent, and asks him to step in. Kent works in real estate and, as cinematic luck would have it, he finds a clown outfit in a mysterious and dusty old chest in the basement of a house newly on his books. Isn’t it always the way? He puts it on, heads home and does rather a good job of entertaining the nippers. Thing is, when he tries, he can’t take the suit back off. And suddenly that’s not a wig anymore – that’s his own, curly, rainbow-coloured hair! The clown seems to be taking him over somehow, and he needs to find out as much as he can about this mysterious outfit before it’s too late and bad things happen…
The back story of this film is quite interesting, however – altogether – the back story turns out to be more engaging than the feature itself. As noble as the sentiment behind all of this is, Clown is simply better as a fake trailer. It was conceived as a trailer, and trailer it should have remained; there simply isn’t enough plot here to go round. Even a short film would have been the better option. Sure, the fake ‘clown origins’ yarn is pretty funny, and some of the visual gags work (though where they do, like the rainbow-coloured blood spray, they’re repeated over and over) but all in all this film is agonisingly slow. Not having written enough story, Watts seems to have deliberately directed this film in slow-mo; for example, one sequence with a child crawling through a tunnel seemed to go on forever, and the upshot of it all plain doesn’t reward the patience it requires of the audience.
It’s all a bit awry in terms of what it wants to do, too, as well as taking aeons to get there. Does it want to play for laughs? Well, sort of, in places, but then it’s padded out with reams of wan, po-faced seriousness, all muted colours and gloom, which rests uncomfortably with the central premise of the film – i.e. a demonic clown running amok. Upping the ante and playing it for obscene laughs would seem to have been the best way to handle this material, even if it meant going in a slightly different direction to the original trailer (though even that has a lot more colour and camp to it than the end feature). Things aren’t helped by the writing for mom Meg (Laura Allen) who commands most of the camera time, more than our clown does for sure, but she genuinely seems confused by what’s going on and has one facial expression to communicate this. Laura Allen has a solid pedigree as an actress, though not so much as a horror actress, and perhaps she wasn’t quite at her best here, though I’ll admit my eyes begin to roll as soon as we’re faced with Obligatory Pregnant Woman in Peril in a film.
Ultimately, if you’re a card-carrying clown phobic then you’ll probably find sufficient material here to pretend to cower from, even though there’s a surprising lack of gore – some weak CGI moments notwithstanding – considering the Roth involvement (though rest easy – a chair with manacles does feature.) It’s not a terrible idea, this, but if your film is called Clown then you expect more of the clown and less of the dull human drama. Neither frightening nor funny, here’s another lesson to prove that fake trailers are often fine just as they are.