The Clovehitch Killer Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by IFC Midnight
Directed by Duncan Skiles
Written by Christopher Ford
2018, 109 minutes, Not Rated
Released on November 16th, 2018
Starring:Dylan McDermott as Don Burnside
Charlie Plummer as Tyler Burnside
Samantha Mathis as Cindy Burnside
Madisen Beaty as Kassi
Lance Chantiles-Wertz as Billy
The Clovehitch Killer wants you to think hard about the answer to a very simple question: what would you do if you found out that your father was the notorious serial killer under whose shadow your town has lived for over a decade? Of course, calling that a simple question is a horrible misnomer; imagine what it would do to your family! Imagine what it would do to you!
Don Burnside (Dylan McDermott; American Horror Story) is the all-American Dad: Scout Troop Leader, faithful churchgoer, and consummate dork. He teaches his son gun safety and how to tie knots. He roughhouses with him and punches him on the arm; it’s picture perfect. His son, Tyler (Charlie Plummer; Boardwalk Empire), is the good son who looks up to his father like a hero. When he accidentally (and embarrassingly) stumbles upon some bondage porn in his father’s truck, he opens a door to a secret obsession of his “perfect” father’s…an obsession that sounds eerily like the style and taste of the infamous Clovehitch Killer. As suspicion grows to certainty, Tyler is aided by local bad girl, Kassi (Madisen Beaty; The Fosters), who harbors a Clovehitch secret of her own.
There’s a toned-down quality to The Clovehitch Killer that’s evident from the first shot. The color palette is muted. Everything is very vanilla. As you’re introduced to the Burnside clan, you’re meant to be mildly taken aback at how very suburban and boring they are. That’s completely by design, and it sets the tone perfectly. There’s a very clear BTK inspiration here for obvious reasons – he is the textbook case of the family man that no one ever suspected of doing something so shocking and vile. Director Duncan Skiles (one of the many involved in the outstanding Our Robocop Remake) wants you to live and breathe the proverbial banality of evil.
Dylan McDermott is masterful in this role. There’s a physicality to him that lets you know he could be very dangerous, but he’s just so damn good at being a dweeb. That by-the-book, good-old-Dad routine is the first thing puts you on edge. He’s clearly hiding something, but with every twist you want to believe him. He’s deceptively charming. An actor with less skill couldn’t have pulled this off anywhere near as effectively. When he gets really creepy, your skin will crawl right the hell off.
For that matter, the casting in general is excellent. Charlie Plummer is one to watch. He fully inhabited his role of the good son who can’t believe what he sees but also can’t ignore it. Veteran actress Samantha Mathis (Stephen King’s Under the Dome, 2004’s Salem’s Lot TV miniseries) is subdued as the dutiful Mom and wife; I’d have loved to see more from her character given her range.
The Clovehitch Killer does toe the line between character study and family drama a little ambiguously at times, finally coming down on the side of family drama (a running trend in horror today). Ultimately, it’s the right decision. Again, the question at the heart of the matter is “what would you do if you found out that your father was the notorious serial killer under whose shadow your town has lived for over a decade?”
It’s not a question you’d ever want to have to answer, and therein lies the punch in The Clovehitch Killer – good horror should put you in the protagonist’s shoes and emotionally invest you. It’s thoughtfully made, restrained and effective. If you’re in the market for a graphic serial killer flick that’s going to give you some 8MM-type imagery, you’re in the wrong place. This is emotional horror, pure and simple.