I trusted you, Jon Watts, director of the brilliantly witty, knowing, colourful Spiderman: Homecoming. But your movie Clown, buried by studios, made me look like a fool to all of whom I recommended this after only having seen the first 45 minutes.
And what a 45 minutes. The first few shots, blunt cuts of birthday party debris overlaid with deafening children’s screams that turn out to be screams of excitement/joy, made it clear, at the time, that I’d be in for some grim fun. The almost immediate body-horror setup, in which realtor Kent (an affable, sympathetic Andy Powers, who I’ve never seen before but would watch more of him), dons a found, dusty old clown costume to fill in at his son’s birthday party and subsequently can’t remove – and the gruesomely funny methods he tries to rid himself of it, including a wonderfully deadpan doctor’s visit.
But he can’t. It’s become a second skin. Even Peter Stormare‘s welcome supporting role can’t fix things. Kent panics, and accidentally, awkwardly reverse-snaps a family friend’s arm in front of his consistently-disapproving father-in-law.
Then it gets horribly uncomfortable.
Kent, still fused to the clown costume, starts to act incredibly aggressively for his pleasant, polite persona. Then a kid walks past him in a diner, where he’s stuffing his face trying to cure his bizarre never-ending hunger in vain – and that’s when his stomach starts making the ungodliest grumble…
It’s subtle, but it’s there: seedy stomach noises every time he passes a child; an uncomfortably hilarious scene where he holes up in a truck stop bathroom only to be tormented when a literal bus full of primary school kids queue up to use the single adjoining stall; the visible struggle against his own urges when a precious brat worthy of Georgie Denborough cosplay repeatedly tries to befriend him in a fleabag motel.
But the movie doesn’t take that blackly comic streak and run with it – instead, it devolves into a circus of gore that takes itself far too seriously under the weight of its own over-exposited lore. There’s hope when Kent’s terrified, pregnant wife Meg (Laura Allen) takes the third act’s reins and uncharacteristically tries to fix things herself. But by then, the movie’s written itself into a fork in the road: more gore to fulfil some lame prophecy, or some as-yet-unseen way of freeing Kent from the curse. On top of that, the final clown’s form is laughably shoddy, like a provocatively bad Hallowe’en costume. Just keeping it simple – with just the basic makeup, would have had things looking sinister rather than silly.
It’s disappointing, because it felt like a bad movie mashed onto a knowingly dark, wry satire on the underbelly of what might be lurking in utopian suburbia. So much right in that first half. Did someone else change it?