Studio: High Octane Pictures
Director: Aaron Mirtes
Writer: Aaron Mirtes, Brad Belemjian
Producer: Aaron Mirtes, Chad Olivier, Nathan Johnson, Elena Trueba
Stars: Brittany Belland, Monica Baker, Burt Culver, Tom Seidman, Sean Patrick Murray, Johnjay Fitih, Caitlin Rigney, Eric Corbin
A serial killer clown possessed by a demon stalks a coulrophobic young woman and her ice cream shop coworkers.
After a terrifying nightmare in which her dog is brutally butchered and a red balloon predicts the date of her death, Emma’s coulrophobia gets a whole lot worse. Supernatural serial killer Ribcage the Clown already murdered Mr. Randal’s daughter nearby. Now Emma is his next target, and Ribcage plans on filling the countdown hours with as much torment as possible.
To stay alive, Emma enlists aid from her housemate Heather and coworker Jonah. They initially think Emma might be coo coo for Cocoa Puffs, until bodies turn up slaughtered and the clown comes to capture them. With Mr. Randal’s crossbow in the mix, Emma aims to uncover what is happening and why, before the clock hits its mark and Ribcage can rip her apart.
Let’s establish the best baseline by which to talk about “Clowntergeist.” With a title like that, you’d be correct to expect a microbudget indie made by unproven twentysomethings with more ambition than money. Now here comes the first “but…”
But when you understand that a formulaic fright flick filmed for five figures and originating out of Tennessee is in a much lower weight class than Hollywood horror heavyweights, “Clowntergeist” holds its own. “Decent” never sounds like a flattering descriptor, though it is actually high praise considering what is usually accepted at this level of DIY thriller. Maybe the movie can’t be unconditionally recommended on its limited entertainment value. But it can certainly be appreciated for turning out as well as anyone involved could have hoped for.
Weirdly, one can talk about how earnest the effort is by pointing out its problems. Several sequences are scrambled somewhat by editing that appears to have its hands tied. One scene of the girls finding a body in the road doesn’t flip to a turnaround shot to see what they are looking at. Clunky cutting comes into play when Mr. Randal and Emma’s trio take on Ribcage, yet there aren’t any shots of the four protagonists together, making it unclear if everyone is even in the same room. What I would wager is that there weren’t complete storyboards and director Aaron Mirtes didn’t have the coverage needed.
Viewers also encounter things like unmotivated giallo lighting or conspicuous reuses of the same background extras as ice cream shop customers wearing the same clothes on different days. Now here comes the next “but…”
But this isn’t sloppiness born out of carelessness, which is what usually makes homegrown horror movies so insultingly bad. These are just the growing pains of a first-time feature filmmaker not properly preparing around certain details. In other words, the issues with “Clowntergeist” are due to inexperience, not unprofessionalism, and many of them are minor.
“Clowntergeist” originally shot in 2014, with another week of filming in 2016. This two-year delay is a probable explanation for some of the disconnects. Once again, I’d argue that for someone barely out of school when production began, Mirtes makes the most out of the competent camerawork he did get in the can as well as the performances pulled from an off-the-grid cast.
Relatively routine writing ensures that neither dialogue nor depth develops characters any further than required. Which is what makes the work of Brittany Belland and Monica Baker all the more impressive. Belland and Baker don’t need to act their way out of a bare minimum script. Exclusively through natural chemistry, both women organically build Emma and Heather into believable young ladies with effective charm. It helps that Belland brings to mind Alycia Debnam-Carey while Baker combines Kristen Bell with Alison Pill. Yet they are indisputably the battery that beats “Clowntergeist’s” heart.
While we’re playing the “looks like” game, if any casting director needs someone to stand in for Jeff Kober, or play Kober’s son, Burt Culver (Mr. Randal) is the only person anyone needs to call.
Getting back to grading the script, there is also the matter of how underwritten Ribcage the Clown is as an iconic threat. Ribcage has a “rule set,” which seems to be pretty flexible, regarding how he leaves red balloons and assigns a deadline for death time. Backstory on the other hand, is even more vague. Ribcage is kind of cartoony overall, though a couple of moments might give coulrophobes some visual creeps. To word it one more way, Ribcage gets the job done. Just don’t expect him to have an action figure or comic book spinoff any time soon.
Essentially, “Clowntergeist” does well with the broad strokes as a basic slasher film with a supernatural slant. Is it scary? Nah. Is it “good?” That depends on the criteria. Now here comes the final “but…”
But writer/director Aaron Mirtes has every reason to be proud of the movie his cast and crew collectively constructed. “Clowntergeist” wears forgivable freshman filmmaking warts, and frankly, it will fade away not long after it dissolves in the DTV stream. Yet for a film made with favors from friends and couch cushion change, “Clowntergeist” sinks more buckets than it misses. Maybe it isn’t memorable, but it’s a solid step in an admirable direction for the team. On integrity alone, everyone earns a thumbs up.
Review Score: 65