THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER (2018)
Starring Dylan McDermott, Charlie Plummer & Madisen Beaty
Directed by Duncan Skiles
Written by Christopher Ford
IFC Midnight Distribution
Effective thrillers, when they deal with grim material, often get mislabeled as horror films. And this strong little crime/mystery thriller has been getting some play as a “horror” film. It isn’t, despite its dark subject matter, but it IS an engaging little film with lots of entertainment to offer the patient viewer.
16-year-old Tyler Burnside (Charlie Plummer), upstanding scout and member of the devout Christian Burnside family, sneaks his father’s truck out on a date to impress a girl, only for her to come across a scrap of s&m pornography in the vehicle. While this gives him a bad reputation at school, Tyler is more worried for what the porn implies about his father Don (Dylan McDermott) – a scoutmaster and average guy, who cares for his brain-damaged brother Rudy along with being the breadwinner for the family as a groundskeeper – as well as how it may tie in to the town’s notorious “Clovehitch” (a sadistic serial killer named for his distinctive use of certain knots, who plagued the area a decade ago, killing 10 women before he disappeared). As Tyler teams with town pariah Kassi (Madisen Beaty) – whose mother was an unregistered victim of the killer – to investigate scraps of clues they gather, Don has not been blind to what’s been happening under his nose…
“…the film does a good job generating dread and worry from its suburban setting.”
It helps to be blunt up front – THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER‘s screenplay is almost certainly a conflation of Stephen King’s story “A Good Marriage” from 2010 and filmed in 2014 (with which it shares a painfully similar set-up) and the real-life exploits of serial murderer Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, who had vanished off the police’s radar for a decade before finally being caught. It is also a difficult film to discuss because it sets up a question – is Don the killer, or is his explanation for his knowledge of the real criminal believable? – before the answer to that question motivates the second half of the film (after a deliberate, and somewhat lazy, narrative jump which brings us to a suspenseful precipice and then backtracks to show us how we arrived there – I didn’t mind it that much but others may be frustrated).
Despite these flaws, the film is very engaging, with McDermott a stand-out as the white-bread, hokey and stiff father figure. The film’s focus on familial bonds and responsibility (along with some minor dabbling in ideas of faith communities and class beliefs) are well-served, story-wise, and Plummer does a good job embodying the conflicted son who wants to believe in his father. Aside from one rather intense scene, no violence is overly dwelt on and instead the film does a good job generating dread and worry from its suburban setting. A solid thriller, THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER may not be the most amazing film you’ve ever seen, but it tells a satisfying story and succeeds by keeping things simple.