The Clovehitch Killer – Horror Review
A picture-perfect family is shattered when the work of a serial killer hits too close to home.
Welcome to Knockout Horror and to a Horror Movie Review. Today we are taking a look at crime based mystery movie The Clovehitch Killer. Now, we can get into a debate here about whether this qualifies as horror. In truth, it probably doesn’t. It’s really more of a thriller than anything. But it’s hard not to feel the similarities between this and a few small town America horror movies. Super Dark Times and I Am Not a Serial Killer both jump to mind.
The Clovehitch Killer is receiving some renewed interest lately; at least in the UK. Netflix is promoting it fairly heavily and it was doing well on Prime Video. I actually watched it a number of years ago. Naturally, the renewed interest called for a second viewing. After having a few issues with it the first time around. I wondered whether those issues would jump out at me again. The answer to that question is a resounding yes.
You may look at the score above and feel that this is a pretty average movie. That would be a fair assumption. But saying that doesn’t do The Clovehitch Killer justice. It is the best 3/5 horror movie I have ever watched. This movie could have been so much more. It was so close to being must watch. As it stands, however, it’s simply a casual recommend. Let’s take a look.
The Clovehitch Killer – Small Town America Crime Drama
The Clovehitch Killer follows the story of 16 year old boy Tyler. Living in a town that has been haunted by a serial killer. Tyler’s time is divided between friends, school, scouts and family time. Raised by devoutly religious parents. Tyler frequents church and lives a fairly strict life. When borrowing his dad’s truck to take a girl out on a date. He finds a picture of a naked woman restrained and gagged. Not knowing where it has come from. Tyler begins to investigate. Leading him to find disturbing secrets buried in his family’s past.
So, as you may be able to tell. This is a fairly run of the mill crime mystery. A town is haunted by a serial killer. A young boy suspects family members. The boy investigates and so on and so forth. The Clovehitch Killer does absolutely nothing new. In fact, it feels incredibly familiar from the very start. For fans of movies like The Summer of 84, Super Dark Times and even Stand By Me. The Clovehitch Killer should feel a lot like sinking into a warm bath.
The Clovehitch Killer – Coming of Age Horror
Acting as part crime drama and part coming of age story. This is a movie with two distinct approaches that both work really well. Tyler is a likeable protagonist. Avoiding the more annoying traits of similar aged characters in other movies. He is a quiet boy with little of the rebellion found in more typical characters of this type. He feels more nuanced and his maturation is interesting. Seeing him struggle with girls and conflicted thoughts about his family is familiar. But it all plays out in an captivating way and keeps you engaged. The real meat on the bones of The Clovehitch Killer, however, is in its crime drama.
The town of Clarksville has a troubled history. A killer that was never found appears to lie dormant. Ever present in the minds of the town’s occupants. For the people of Clarksville, it is like he never left. Indeed, for certain characters, the impact of his crimes are still being felt. Much of the story here is taken directly from real life. Fans of true crime will recognise similarities to the case of Dennis Rader – The BTK Killer. The real life comments from people surrounding the crimes are brought to life. Along with other copy pasted elements that somewhat detract from the story a little.
Tyler’s father, Don, is a well respected individual. A hard working handy man, devout Christian, community leader and scout master. Don places his family and God above everything else. Always keen to help people. Don is, basically, Ned Flanders made flesh. Tyler begins to suspect his father may be hiding something. Despite this, he feels like he does not know enough about The Clovehitch Killer. With this in mind, he enlists the help of Kassi. Kassi is a teenage girl who has been somewhat shunned by her peers. Non-religious, she is the victim of persistent rumours regarding her supposed promiscuity. She is also an expert on The Clovehitch Killer so the pair team up.
The Clovehitch Killer – Genuinely Tense
For the majority of the movie’s runtime. It plays out as a mystery crime drama. Tyler and Kassi are determined to find out the identity of the Clovehitch Killer. They investigate evidence, creep into Don’s shed, follow people around. It’s fascinating stuff and, at times, feature some genuine tension. Scenes featuring the pair skulking around in the darkness are effortlessly effective. Almost not having to even try to provoke feelings of unease in the viewer.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that the movie doesn’t realise how effective it can be. Certain moments of legitimate toe curling tension are never really paid off on. Almost as if it was never the intention of the director. Still, it can be incredibly nerve-wracking at times. All the good parts of crime mystery dramas are present and accounted for. Sneaking around and going through old documents. Studying patterns. Visiting old crime scenes. It works brilliantly and is never anything other than utterly engaging.
The Clovehitch Killer – An Engaging Story
When The Clovehitch Killer is entertaining you with its crime elements. It is absolutely at its best. In creating an atmosphere of tension and dread. It is slow paced and never resorts to action to push the plot along. It is content to weave a tapestry of small town horror. Where every crawl space feels too small and every room lacks an exit. It is brilliant stuff and something many horror movies would kill to achieve. Even when the horror elements are pushed to one side. This is an easy movie to enjoy.
The family dynamic between Tyler and his parents is interesting. This is a highly religious family. A family that is, perhaps, fairly atypical for anyone outside of this dynamic. Tyler’s conversations with his dad point to a close relationship based on respect. It is well thought out and believable. If not a little corny at times. But that is what The Clovehitch Killer is aiming for. This corniness is instrumental in its message.
It is keen to point a finger at some of the societal issues that allow serial killers to exist. A system based on the significance of respect. Creating a world where people are able to hide behind a mask of religion. Protected by a society that places certain figures as being beyond reproach. Allowing them to hide in plain sight. The Clovehitch Killer hints at the squandered opportunities to stop people that kill. Instead allowing them to continue for the sake of keeping up appearances. The Clovehitch Killer has a lot to talk about. Most of which it does pretty eloquently.
The Clovehitch Killer – Becomes Very Predictable
The amount of work that has gone into the early writing here deserves praise. Obviously the result of significant research. This is an utterly believable story based on genuine serial killer history. The religious setting adds a multi-layered element of commentary. While remaining true to some of the movie’s clear inspirations. The place where The Clovehitch Killer begins to stumble, however. Is in its presentation of events. The mystery element of this movie wraps up extremely quickly. By the half way point, you are no longer guessing and the sense of intrigue has gone.
The Clovehitch Killer spills its proverbial guts early on. Robbing the movie of much of its incredibly effective story building. Don’t get me wrong. The sense of tension is still very much present. In fact, I would say it actually increases. But the horse pulling the cart has definitely stopped. There is a very real feeling of having arrived at our destination. The movie has very little left to reveal.
All of a sudden the horror and suspense is gone. Replaced by a discomforting sense of predictability. Events now take place with virtually no fanfare. The movie, seemingly, having little left to offer. And realising that the viewer obviously knows what is happening. It just sort of gives up. This is a bad move and hampers the movie quite seriously. Its hard not to feel as though it cheated itself out of a fantastic second half. But that isn’t the worst thing about The Clovehitch Killer. If it was, I would still be giving it a 4/5. For much of its length, it is that intriguing.
The Clovehitch Killer – An Awful Ending
The real problem with The Clovehitch Killer is its ending. This is one of the most disappointing endings I have seen in a horror for a long time. I thought this the first time that I watched it and again the second time. I think it was worse the second time as I was enjoying the movie so much. It is very apparent here that writer Christopher Ford had backed himself against a wall. Perhaps wanting to compensate for some of the movie’s predictability. The ending represents a full court Hail Mary. That lands somewhere in the concession stands as the buzzer sounds.
The events of the last 30 minutes or so are extremely predictable. An attempt to mix things up a little forces the movie to engage in 15 minutes of exposition. Briefly taking you out of the flow for some, rather dull, story recounting. Only to come back and present some of the most unrealistic character behaviour ever. This is a movie that leaves you with so many questions and not a single answer. Taking characters you have rooted for and making you instantly dislike them. In an ode to Basic Instinct. Ford takes an ice pick and punches hundreds of holes into the plot. Provoking eye rolls and raised eyebrows at the ridiculous scenarios presented.
It is completely disappointing. Systematically undermining the previous hour or so of excellent storytelling. Instantly making some of the movie’s other issues seem far more glaring. Just like a gymnast’s routine is ruined if they can’t plant their feet. The Clovehitch Killer doesn’t stick the landing. In fact, it lands with a compound fracture to both legs and a suspicious brown stain on its leotard. This is an ending that will frustrate the majority of viewers. It is unrealistic, unbelievable and, at its worse, utterly farcical. And, yes, deserving of dropping the movie a point or so.
The Clovehitch Killer – Fantastic Acting and Cinematography
Acting is fantastic throughout. Charlie Plummer, as Tyler, is great. He has a tendency to pull the same face repeatedly but its not a huge problem here. When he needs to emote, he can. Its a believable performance. Madisen Beaty is great fun as Kassi. Doing a fantastic job of portraying a tough outsider with an interesting past. She brings a lot of attitude to the film and has brilliant comedy timing. Her facial expressions are excellent, especially when Kassi is full of mischief.
The standout actor here is Dylan McDermott as Don. He puts on an amazing performance. Perfectly bringing to life the Ned Flanders-esque religious family man. He delivers on the cheesiness perfectly. Almost making you cringe at numerous points, as you would expect. He’s a ton of fun and, evidently, completely understood the character. McDermott really helps the viewer buy into the way Tyler regards him. Making the character feel real.
Cinematography is fantastic. I would have preferred to see a 1.66:1 aspect ratio here. There is something of a retro feel, despite the modern setting. I feel like the 1.66:1 ratio would have worked well. Especially given the location. The 1.78:1 ratio used here is a fantastic second option, though. Shots look gorgeous doing a brilliant job capturing the tall trees as well as tight indoor shots. Lighting is used well to build tension and the scenery is fantastic. Direction is decent. Some of the shots setup the tension fantastically. I particularly enjoyed some of the close character shots. Feeling like they did a lot for creating a sense of unease. Pacing is fine though I could have lived without the flashback scene later in the movie. It disrupts flow a little and expands on some pretty obvious points.
Is it a Knockout?
The Clovehitch Killer is a mystery crime drama horror. Featuring elements that will feel very familiar to fans of true crime. It does a brilliant job of bringing to life the story of a town haunted by a serial killer. And a family that may have more of a connection to the crimes than they realise. It is engaging. Featuring an interesting coming of age style plot and likeable characters. There are some genuinely tense moments here. And it frequently leaves the viewer unsettled.
The problems start as the movie begins to wrap up. This movie would have been rated significantly higher. Were it not for one of the most ridiculous endings I have seen in a long time. This is a movie that pays off the viewer's investment. With an ending that is both unbelievable and utterly farcical. Completely undermining the events of the movie. The ending here makes The Clovehitch Killer's other issues seem more glaring. It is silly and offers little in the way of satisfaction. A huge disappointment given the fantastic first half. This is still completely worth a watch. If you can ignore the bad ending. There is a fantastic and unsettling horror movie in here. Just ignore the last 20 minutes or so.