Movie Review : The Clovehitch Killer (2018)
* This review contains mild spoilers *
Not so long ago, we were afraid of serial killers. They were contemporary boogeymen, snatching unrighteous youth from the street and turning them into cautionary tales for naughty teenagers. But Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold came and flipped the script. Suddenly, there were other killers to worry about. They were more unpredictable and inscrutable than serial killers, who took out dozens of unsuspecting people for convoluted reasons. The Clovehitch Killer is a movie about forgotten boogeymen in more ways than one. And it’s so removed from everything you know about serial killers, it makes them creepy again.
The Clovehitch Killer is the story of a small, devout American town prey to sadistic, sex-driven serial killer for over a decade. He chokes his victims using an atypical knot, but otherwise he never gave much for the police to go on. 16 years-old boy scout Tyler Burnside (Charlie Plummer) starts suspecting his father after finding pretty intense BDSM porn in his pick up truck while on a date. But no one in the tight knit community is interested in even considering that scout master Donald Burnside (Dylan McDermott) is anything more than what he seems to be.
Well, this movie was unexpectedly great. One of the main reasons is the nuanced portrait of its antagonist. Serial killers are usually depicted as cartoonishly evil in fiction. They are the embodiment of our unchecked, animalistic urges. The titular Clovehitch Killer is not like that. He fantasies are very much alive and devouring, but he lives them alone in a wordless, ritualistic way. It’s almost like an alternate reality, which he uses his wholesome, all-american image to protect. Banality is the Clovehitch Killer’s disguise. The terrified townsfolk seek comfort through banality and he uses that fear to become invisible.
The antagonist is not the only nuanced thing about The Clovehitch Killer. This movie is all details and subtleties. For example, Tyler’s ultra-Christian and ultra-closeted best friend Billy (Lance Chantiles-Wertz) becomes jealous of Kassi (Madisen Beaty) when Tyler starts spending time with her, hinting at the Rockwellian setting keeping everyone’s true nature under wraps, not just the killer’s. This is illustrated visually by the use of weather and filtering light. It’s never sunny and it never rains in The Clovehitch Killer. Weather is always cloudy. It’s covered, like the killer’s secret. None of these things call attention to themselves, but it’s there.
I was too young to follow the serial killer media craze of the eighties and I’ve (thankfully) never been personally involved with a case, but I believe The Clovehitch Killer offers a much more realistic portrayal of serial killers than anything else in fiction. It’s disturbingly real. Forget Anthony Hopkins or Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecters. Forget everything you know about serial killers. When you get to work today, look at your favorite co-worker in the eye and try to imagine him horribly murdering women for sexual gratification. That’s how close to home this movie hits.