A picture-perfect family is shattered when the work of a serial killer hits too close to home. Dylan McDermott stars in this chilling portrait of all-American evil.
I would like to avoid spoilers in this review, but by discussing certain elements of the film, inadvertent spoilers will happen. See the movie first if you do not want anything ruined.
Imagine living in a town haunted by a legacy of horror. Not monsters or ghosts in the traditional sense. A town haunted by victims of a serial killer and living under the shadow of the killer who was never found. In fact, the town has a yearly memorial service to remember those killed.
Then focus on just one kid, a member of Scout-like troop. Good kid, nice family that reminds one of the Flanders on “The Simpsons”, and respected amongst his friends. A simple incident stemming from “borrowing” his dad’s truck results in his being shamed by his friends at school. Just an old, weathered image of a girl in bondage clothing and a ball gag.
The discovery starts the young man on a path that will find him questioning his past, his sanity, and his father, the one person he looks up to more than any other.
“The Clovehitch Killer” deals with the impact of a community tragedy in the form of at least 10 women murdered and others suspected as victims of a killer known as Clovehitch because of the distinctive knot the killer preferred. Living in a town with that kind of past is definitely weird. My hometown had three Girl Scouts murdered in the camp just outside of town. It put our town on the map, but for all the worst reasons. The citizens felt uncomfortable, and we knew more about the people accused of the crime than the national news or even the OSBI agents investigating the whole thing. In the end, no killer was found.
In the movie, the whole town seems to have embraced a very religious attitude to help deal with the history of murder the town has become known for. When the bondage photo is found by Tyler’s intended girlfriend while making out in his dad’s work truck, the girl assumes it belongs to Tyler and proceeds to spread the rumor around school. The religious streak through the community means Tyler’s friends desert him without checking with him. Worse yet, bondage was involved in the murders, so it is almost double marks against the kid.
Since the photo was in his father’s truck, he is left with the sick feeling that his dad is into things that flies in direct conflict with how he has raised Tyler, and he cannot find peace until he knows if the image is a fluke or if his father is not quite the person he has always assumed him to be. Not only is he on the outs with his peer group, but now he is actively doubting one of the cornerstones upon which he has built his world view, and, to confirm or deny his fears, Tyler must betray his own father.
Heavy stuff for a horror movie. And it gets worse. The key here is that the horror is not so much the killer and what happens to the victims; it focuses on that journey of learning something you weren’t supposed to know, and once you learn it, you cannot unlearn the information. It is about the fear of change, betrayal, and the fact that we can never truly know another person, even when we put our lives into their hands.
If you are here for blood and scenes of torture porn, you should turn tail and go find a movie about cannibals made by the Italians during the 1980s. “The Clovehitch Killer” is less about a killer and more about the stories that go on around the killer. What about his family? How does a community continue under the burden of a series of unsolved murders? What about the families of the victims?
Read reviews of this film online, and you may find some dislike for this film. The reasons range from valid (“not what I was expecting” and “slow”) to vapid (“not horror…where’s the blood?”). The film is not perfect. In a paranoid and small community, Tyler’s parents would know about his reputation based on the bondage photo within 24 hours. Tyler most likely would not be able to sneak around so freely in his own hometown. I also doubt Tyler’s mother, even in a deep state of denial, would have been blind to as much as she seems to be in the movie, but then the movie is not about her relationship to the situation, so maybe we just aren’t given enough information to decide in this case.
However, other issues that people have held up as faults really are not.
“Serial killers never stop.” May or may not be true, but we do know that serial killers have been known to take breaks that sometimes cover years of inactivity, even when they aren’t in prison.
“The father acts too silly to be believable.” Yes, he is a bit of a caricature. He undercuts his speeches like Sarah Palin and her silly non-curse words. He almost seems like he is overplaying the nice guy. Well, if you’ve repressed a natural impulse for several years, the act you are putting on to cover that urge is going to wear thin, especially for the person having to put on that show. If you watch, the father falters half of the time due to the constantly building desire to act out; the conflict is strong enough that he can do little more than offer up a thin mask to hide his impulses.
“Christians are made into villains. Again.” Not really. The killer takes on a religious mask to hide the monster inside. The film makes it very clear that, in the end, the killer has no hesitation to do anything needed to protect himself. Acting as a Christian in a town turning to faith to deal with unresolved horror says more about the individual character than it does about religion or faith. The killer plays the role people would be most likely to excuse from doing anything wrong.
In a film such as this, the performers are key to selling the material as it does not rely on special effects. Dylan McDermott does a solid job as a man slowly losing his grip on his demons as he coldly manipulates those around him. Charlie Plummer as Tyler gives his role a timid quality that makes his actions all the more impactful, though you do get the urge to give him a shake now and then. The biggest delight was Madisen Beaty as Kassi. The whole time she was on screen, I kept seeing her change into Kirsten Dunst, which is a very good thing. If she has the range Ms. Dunst has, Madisen should have a long healthy career ahead of her.
“The Clovehitch Killer” does what I have been hoping modern horror would do more often – look for the horror in the quiet around the cause. Even though the “killer” is present in every frame of the film in a metaphorical sense, this film is more an examination of how a family member deals with doubt and fear of loss of stability when a family member may not be the same person you thought they were for the last 16 years. Horrors outside of ourselves come and go; just review the atrocities that roll past us in the news and on social media every day. When we find ourselves personally connected to something horrific, it becomes a part of us. This film is about THAT kind of horror.
- Making-Of Featurette
- Theatrical Trailer
The Clovehitch Killer is now available on bluray per Shout Factory