One of the most common tropes with any film focusing on a serial killer is how often they live seemingly normal lives. Whether they could easily blend into a crowd or act and talk in ways to convince us that they are just like you or I, serial killers are often portrayed as hiding in plain sight. The Clovehitch Killer takes that well-worn convention and twists it into something far superior than most of its peers.
To detail the plot much more beyond the synopsis would be to spoil the two hours of tension that simply just flow by. The Clovehitch Killer has plenty of indie sensibilities — a slower pace, an emphasis of diegetic sound over a creeping score, an oddly timeless aestheitc — but it excites as much as any mainstream horror movie. It’s a shame that IFC Midnight ducked it out of the Halloween horror line-up as there’s more than enough here to warrant the same time in the limelight as a geriatric’s third rebooted murder spree.
The Clovehitch Killer takes place in a sleep town rocked by ten killings a decade prior. The perpetrator was never found, but the wide assumption is that he has either stopped his ways, fled, or died somewhere along the line. A case very much closed, then, that is until a teenage boy (Charlie Plummer) begins to suspect his apparently virtuous father (Dylan McDermott) after discovering some unsettling images.
The film wastes no time in piling up the evidence against the patriarch of the Burnside family, who is portrayed by the almost unrecognisable McDermott in what may be a career best performance. The stylish appearance is gone, replaced by a distinctly middle-aged paunch and a goatee that screams middle America. He is seen helping out the local community, donating food to those who need it and being a troop leader to the Scouts. McDermott disappears into a bizarrely sympathetic role that will constantly keep you guessing, much in the same way that his son, Tyler, does for the majority of The Clovehitch Killer.
Plummer, an actor on the up after appearing in All The Money in the World, lends a Keir Gilchrist-esque vibe of awkwardness, the out-of-sorts teenager growing up in a staunchly religious and humdrum family. His suspicions only grow deeper when he becomes close to Kassi (Madisen Beaty), an outcast who has more than a passing interest in The Clovehitch Killer. How they view her sums up the outlook of the town as a whole — she is branded a whore despite being just different and not outwardly religious, helping the movie to deliver a faux-eighties or seventies vibe despite being set in the present day.
This fake-retro appeal suits The Clovehitch Killer down to the ground, meaning that while the technology is there, the duo rarely resort to hitting Generic-Search-Engine-That-Isn’t-Google to uncover the truth. Instead, what occurs is a series of dangerous investigations from which suspicions only grow that much keener, and not just from the young pair. A camping scene between the father and son is one of the most knee-gripping you’re likely to see this year.
Just when you have The Clovehitch Killer figured out, its plot all but laid out, director Duncan Skiles flips it and delivers one of the most quietly shocking moments in a mostly bloodless horror movie, leading the film to backtrack and somehow still enthral despite it treading familiar ground. Forget what you’ve been taught by The Silence of the Lambs et al, because The Clovehitch Killer is unlike any other serial killer movie and is all the better for it.
The Clovehitch Killer releases in Theaters, On Digital, and On Demand, on November 16th, 2018.
Review screener provided
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