Remember that news story about a clown prowling the streets in Wisconsin and freaking out residents — the one that made national news and launched copycats all across the country? That was a marketing stunt for a short film, directed by Adam Krause. And a very effective one at that. Now there’s a feature version of the short, Gags, which had its world premiere at Cinepocalypse 2018. Anyone with coulrophobia (including a certain film critic whose work you might be familiar with) is certain to get a shiver or five.
The movie follows several characters, all of whom are fascinated by a clown named Gags who has been trolling Green Bay, carrying black balloons filled with deadly powder. There’s TV news reporter Heather Duprey (played by genre favorite Lauren Ashley Carter) who wants to get a big scoop; a right-wing podcaster, Charles Wright (Aaron Christensen), determined to scare the clown away during a live broadcast; a couple of cops trying to find and arrest him; and a group of teenagers attempting to mimic his actions. All of them convene on one fateful night. Not everyone makes it out alive.
Gags is a horror-comedy, so there’s a mixture of scares and laughs. Of course, last year’s It set the gold standard for clown-based horror, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some effective scenes here. Krause makes excellent use of locations, having the villain pop up in darkened alleys, at a carnival, and in a parking garage, among other places. The biggest chill occurs in the final ten minutes, in which Gags’ lair is revealed. Conception and design of the place are wonderfully eerie. What happens there might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Elsewhere, the film has fun taking some digs at story-hungry reporters and angry right-wing types. Sometimes the humor is overt, such as the way Heather carries out an ongoing rivalry with a reporter from another station. Other times, it’s more darkly satirical. One of the best scenes has Wright confronting Gags by whipping out his gun and engaging in macho, I’m only tough because I’m packing! posturing.
Gags could have used just a little more of its title character, who appears sparingly. The film is more about the reactions of everyone else to him than it is about his reign of terror. Nevertheless, there are some interesting insights into how people view bizarre, un-quantifiable threats — with fear, with aggression, as an amusement, etc. Carter and Christensen give very good performances that add significantly to the overall impact, and the story builds to a conclusion that is as ingenuous as it is creepy.
In the realm of clown-horror cinema, Gags is definitely a movie to pay attention to.