Saturday, 17 April 2021

Movie Review: The Clovehitch Killer (2018)

A suspense drama, The Clovehitch Killer brings the horrors of a serial killer mystery into a tight-knit family environment. The story tantalizes with provocative possibilities, but the resolution is compromised by a jumble of short-cuts.

In suburban Kentucky, 16 year old Tyler Burnside (Charlie Plummer) is growing up in a devout Christian household headed by his dad Don (Dylan McDermott), the local scout troop leader, and mom Cindy (Samantha Mathis). The family also cares for Don's brother Rudy, who is confined to a wheelchair. Years prior, a serial killer known as Clovehitch (for the distinctive knot used to tie up the victims) murdered 10 women in the community and was never caught. The killings stopped suddenly. 

Now Tyler stumbles upon bondage magazines stashed away by his dad, and a Polaroid photo linked to a Clovehitch victim. With no one to turn to, he eventually confides in schoolmate Kassi (Madisen Beaty), a non-religious misfit known for writing school reports about Clovehitch. Kassi initially does not believe Don could be the killer, but with Tyler making new discoveries pointing to his family's involvement, the tension mounts.

A teenager's gnawing doubt about the true identity of his father is turned into a simmering conundrum by director Duncan Skiles, working from a Christopher Ford script. Family secrets, religious fervour, community identity and the travails of adolescence merge into a dangerous puzzle, Skiles capturing small-town dynamics while demonstrating assured pacing and avoiding gimmickry, at least for the first two thirds.

The plot draws strength from a young man forced to start thinking independently. Evil may lurk anywhere, including behind the walls of church-going, Christ-loving, community-leading families raising their children according to strict moral codes. And precisely because Tyler is brought up in the tight confines of absolute rights-and-wrongs, finding the courage to question the identity of his father is a monumental emotional mountain.

In domestic terms, all hell breaks loose in an incongruous if still intriguing final act. Ford deploys one late-in-the-day not-bad narrative trick to innovatively fill in some of the blanks, but the ending stumbles and falls on too many ideas competing for attention, resulting in an unworthy, logic-riddled stalemate.

The performances are proficient, young Charlie Plummer navigating the ups and downs of creeping mistrust, Dylan McDermott a sturdy, potentially two-faced presence. The two actors complement each other well as the father-son bond starts to buckle, the veneer of normalcy suddenly brittle.



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