November 12, 2018 The Clovehitch Killer (Movie Review)
What happens when a curious teenage game of CSI builds a trail of clues that lead uncomfortably close to home? One fastidious Boy Scout plays with some serious fire in The Clovehitch Killer, which stars Dylan McDermott and arrives to select theaters on Friday, November 16, 2018, thanks to IFC Midnight.
Don Burnside (McDermott: The Practice series, American Horror Story series) is an upstanding member of the community: he is an independent contractor, Boy Scout troop leader, and a church-going family man. Along with his wife Cindy (Samantha Mathis: American Psycho 2000, Boarding School 2018), Don has two beautiful children: quiet little Susie (Brenna Sherman: Lost in Time 2016, The Kingsbury Run 2018) and soft-spoken, dedicated Boy Scout and loving son Tyler (Charlie Plummer: Granite Flats series, The Dinner 2017). Their family is seemingly picture-perfect, without a single skeleton in the closet, save for the curious car accident that permanently disabled Uncle Rudy (Mark A. Nash: Live Evil 2009, Scalene 2011).
Each year in the fictitious town of Clarksville, there is a memorial to the 10 known victims of a serial murderer who named himself The Clovehitch Killer, after his favorite type of knot. On this year’s anniversary, a series of unfortunate events piques the curiosity of Tyler, who is quickly shunned by his zealot of a friend Billy (Lance Chantiles-Wertz: The Three Stooges 2012, Scorpion series) and would-be girlfriend Amy (Emma Jones). Enlisting the help of the Clovehitch-obsessed Kassi (Madisen Beaty: The Master 2012, The Fosters series), a vegan and atheist, Tyler will embark on an investigation into the identity of the town’s mysterious killer. Unfortunately, the pair’s deductions will open up a Pandora’s box that neither could have possibly foretold.
Clocking in at 109 minutes in-length, The Clovehitch Killer was directed by Duncan Skiles (The Last of the Great Romantics 2014, The Fuzz series) and written by Christopher Ford (Robot & Frank 2012, Spider-Man: Homecoming 2017). Billed as a blend of Drama, Horror, Mystery and Thriller, The Clovehitch Killer plays out as a Drama that, because it revolves around a serial killer, has some Horror-Thriller elements but they are very minimal. In fact, with some slight editing, this could be your next Lifetime Channel feature presentation!
Filmed in Kentucky, The Clovehitch Killer intentionally draws parallels to Wichita, Kansas’ best-known serial killer, Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. However, it’s important to note that these are loose similarities and The Clovehitch Killer is not a retelling of the BTK Killer’s story; instead, it is merely a Drama inspired by real-life events. The end result is a film that explores the evil that exists throughout suburbia, living right next door and never once causing any of us to bat an eye. In fact, this is a very similar premise to 2018’s wonderfully fun Summer of 84, though here there is no retro-throwback.
Sometimes, nothing goes blatantly wrong with a film and yet the myriad pieces stack up to create a picture that is not quite as great as it might have been. With The Clovehitch Killer, the problems are minimal, though they do make an important impact. For what the story contains, the 109-minute runtime seems to exceed its welcome, and the film could have easily been shaved by 15-20 minutes. More importantly, however, is the creep factor: this is a story that should leave viewers unnerved, spines tingling as they think of the real-life evil that is hiding out next door.
Unfortunately, though he is an exceptionally-talented actor, McDermott is about as ominous as Mr. Rogers: he does a splendid job at painting a perfectly wholesome Dad Next Door – who just so happens to occasionally dress in women’s négliges while playing with bondage – but he never feels sadistically threatening or cruelly harmful. Perhaps that is the point? Whatever the case, because it’s never a mystery who the killer is here, there needs to be a truly disturbing side to Don that hits us hard in the feels; unfortunately, at best, he is simply awkward.
It is on a very connected and similar note that The Clovehitch Killer truly succeeds: and that is with its exceptional casting. McDermott (Don) and Mathis (Cindy) are both known talents in Hollywood, and they do a splendid job in painting a technicolor picture of the perfect Midwestern family. McDermott is appropriately outgoing and jovial, fully believable as the Boy Scout troop leader who maintains a close relationship with his teenage son. While he is not convincing as a sadistic psychopath who commits serial murder, that may be an intention of the filmmakers – one that merely does not pan out. For her part, Mathis is a helicopter parent who is fully invested in her children’s lives – perhaps at the cost of having her own. Together, McDermott and Mathis brilliantly set the scene and, in many ways, feed into the drama that is meant to unfold.
However, it is Plummer (Tyler) and Beaty (Kassi) who anchor the entire tale, providing exemplary performances in their equally well-rounded characters. Their talents shine through in the nuances they are able to portray, the subtle little quirks that bring their disparate characters to life. In his role, Plummer is a doting every-son who wants desperately to believe each word that emanates from his father’s mouth. Beaty is the girl with a rumored past, a curious outsider in an inclusive community. She serves as the intelligent force behind Tyler’s great epiphany, the girl whose belief in him inspires his ability to see the world clearer.
Unfortunately, that cringe-y feeling that a good serial killer flick implants in your bones, single-handedly bringing heavy doubt to your already tenuous faith in humanity? Do not expect that with The Clovehitch Killer! It’s a wonderfully done film with an exceptional cast, a murderous tale without blood, and yet it all feels a little insignificant. There should be something that leaves viewers feeling uncomfortable in their suburban shells, aware that unfathomable evil lurks around every corner. Instead, The Clovehitch Killer amounts to a simple film, enjoyable but not emotionally impactful. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give The Clovehitch Killer 4 of 5 stars.