FTP: Gags The Clown (2018)

JANUARY 23, 2023


The only thing easier to find than a bad killer clown movie is a bad found footage movie, so the deck was pretty stacked against Gags The Clown even before I found out it was based on a viral phenomenon, giving me unpleasant flashbacks to Slender Man. But to my pleasant surprise, it got out from under the shadow of all those red flags and turned out to be a pretty good little chiller; the sort of thing that, back in the regular days of this site, I would be grateful to for being above average and giving me something to remember. Hell it might have even ended up in my book!

The key reason that it works, beyond wisely not giving Gags any kind of (likely annoying/underwhelming) backstory, is that the creative team of Adam Krause and John Pata (former directed, latter produced, both wrote) understand that having multiple POVs in this sort of “found footage” movie (they dislike the term, and they’re right that it’s not, but I’m referring to it as one for the sake of brevity) keeps it from ever getting too dull, with minimal “why are they filming?” moments that have derailed so many others in this sub-genre. Our characters are a news team tasked with covering the ongoing appearances of the creepy clown around town, a trio of teens who are using the hysteria to play pranks, a right-wing podcast host who wants to be a hero for his viewers, and a pair of cops who are on patrol the night Gags has seemingly upped his game. And they each have different, motivated ways of depicting their POV – the podcast guy is streaming live, the cops have their body cams, the teens are just filming everything with their phones, etc. There are occasional uses of security cameras and such to give a different view on the proceedings, and every now and then I wasn’t quite sure what camera was being used, but for the most part it’s a very well thought out way of telling the story in a non-cheating way but without too much of the tedium that proves to be a crutch for so many of its predecessors.

And (minor spoiler) eventually all of the characters converge in a single area, so it actually feels like a true ensemble film as opposed to something more episodic and disconnected, which it seemed it might be at first. But unlike Mockingbird, which had a similar structure (and also involved a creepy clown), the tone doesn’t change wildly between these segments, while the aesthetic itself does, so we get some variety in the proceedings but no whiplash from suddenly feeling like a different kind of movie, as Mockingbird did whenever it cut to the guy pulling off Jackass-style pranks. The POV might keep changing, but there is a genuine sense of mounting escalation to the proceedings, and even when they all meet up it doesn't feel like a forced "well let's get to the ending" decision, but a natural one. It's really well done in that regard.

That said it does get a bit repetitive at times, in particular with the right-wing guy (who reminded me of my old coworker, which made me chuckle) who – another spoiler here – turns out to be all talk, which was obvious from the start since he was clearly modeled after Alex Jones/Bill O’Reilly type of “tough guys” who were also afraid of putting a mask on during the height of the pandemic. But knowing he’d get what he deserved kept it afloat, and with three other teams to check in with, at least we’re never with him for too long. I just wish his story had more pull throughout; it’s not until he comes face to face with Gags that his storyline becomes more compelling.

The disc has a ton of extras, including the short film that they were making when all those viral photos surfaced back in 2016 (which, amusingly, was more traditional found footage and felt almost as long as the movie despite being a fraction of the length). There’s also some charming footage of the premiere in Wisconsin; a nice reminder that the film was an independent/regional production that came together from good natured people who were happy to help the filmmakers. Indeed, on the commentary, they note that a certain scene was supposed to be shot at a local fun park, only for the owners to turn them down – it was apparently the only time they were denied anything by their neighbors (luckily, a local traveling carnival was happy to help, turning on all the rides the night before they opened so they could have proper production value, with the carnies all going along with whatever was asked of them). Maybe because the right-wing guy had me thinking a lot about all the division in the world (especially in the pandemic era, which this predated), it served as a nice reminder that most people are inherently good and willing to help their fellow man. Thanks, Gags.

What say you?


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