The Clovehitch Killer is one of the biggest and best surprises of the last twelve months. This is an eerie film that avoids the easy cliches of the serial killer genre in favor of going to deeper, more contemplative places. It makes you tense because the plot generates real physical and emotional stakes for the characters. Combined with outstanding performances from the key cast members, it all adds up to a picture that isn't easy to shake off once you're done watching it. Scream Factory releases the movie on Blu-ray March 5.
The story is set in a small Kentucky town. It's the kind of place where nothing ever happens, except in this case, something has happened. A decade prior, a killer brutally tortured and murdered ten women. Charlie Plummer plays Tyler Burnside, a true Good Kid if ever there was one. He's a Boy Scout who volunteers regularly at his church. He's also the son of prominent, highly-respected community member Don (Dylan McDermott) and his religious wife Cindy (Samantha Mathis).
One day, while rummaging through Don's locked shed, Tyler finds a box of pornography and pictures of women tied up in weird bondage positions. He comes to wonder if it's possible that his father could be the never-caught Clovehitch Killer, named for his signature of tying a specifically-knotted rope on the homes of his victims. Tyler enlists the help of Kassi (Madisen Beaty), a fellow teen long obsessed with the murders, to help him investigate. What follows is a suspenseful quest for the truth.
One of the things that's so great about The Clovehitch Killer is that the screenplay by Christopher Ford (Spider-Man: Homecoming) legitimately keeps you guessing as to whether or not Don is the murderer. Every time you become convinced, as Tyler does, that he is the guilty party, some perfectly plausible explanation comes along to abruptly make you believe otherwise. This quality ensures that the movie keeps you guessing from start to finish.
Beneath the question of whether or not Don is the killer lies something more substantive -- an exploration of family unity and community status. As his investigation proceeds, Tyler increasingly comes to realize that the outcome could have enormous implications for his clan. Don is a true pillar of the community, well-regarded by the entire town. If it turns out he's the killer, it will tear the family apart and destroy their standing. They will become pariahs. They will also have to bear the guilt of knowing they were blind to what was happening right under their noses. The way The Clovehitch Killer unfolds that notion is riveting. Tyler kind of wants Don to be guilty so that no one can ever get hurt again, but he also desperately wants him to be innocent, because he can't stand the thought of his own father committing such heinous acts.
Charlie Plummer (All the Money in the World) captures that dichotomy beautifully, creating a character who knows how badly his life could be changed. Samantha Mathis is also terrific as Tyler's mother. She has a powerhouse scene near the end that illustrates Cindy's deep compassion. Then there's Dylan McDermott, who performs an insanely difficult role with consummate skill. In order for the story to work, it is important for Don to have ambiguity. The actor provides that trait, which allows him to possess the exact right sense of mystery.
Director Duncan Skiles gives the film a suitably unsettling atmosphere, tackling the edgier moments in a manner that disturbs you without ever tipping things over into exploitation. Because so much care is taken in that department, the deeply poignant ending is fully earned. Calling The Clovehitch Killer a dark coming-of-age tale wouldn't be inaccurate. It is an intelligent, engrossing, chilling tale about an adolescent facing the idea that the parent he's long looked up to might be fatally flawed.
Prepare to be rocked by this first-rate thriller.
The Clovehitch Killer comes to Blu-ray on March 5 from Scream Factory. There are two bonus features. The first is a 10-minute spoof of behind-the-scenes segments. It features a guy sneaking around the set, trying to get access to the stars and director, only to be foiled every time. You don't really gain any knowledge about the film from it, because it's essentially a comedy piece. The second extra is the original theatrical trailer.
For more information on this and other great genre titles, please visit the Scream Factory website.
out of four
The Clovehitch Killer is unrated, but contains adult language, sexual content, and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.