Remember back in 2016 when people were popping up all over the world dressed as evil clowns, and no one had any idea why, and still doesn’t? Well, it was inevitable that someone would make a movie about it. Behold, Gags the Clown, a film a few circus peanuts short of living up to its potential…
…The latest film from Doppelganger Releasing and Bloody Disgusting (Hagazussa), Gags the Clown is the debut feature of director Adam Krause, with a script from Krause and John Pata (Dead Weight). The found-footage film takes place in Green Bay, Wisconsin, during the course of one frantic night as the city has become obsessed with a mysterious figure referred to only as “Gags the Clown” (Eric Heuvelman), a guy dressed in a clown suit creeping out the town. Following a reporting team, police, a vigilante hunting Gags and a group of kids wanting to conduct Gags pranks of their own, Gags the Clown takes us through one long night of terror as the city of Green Bay descends into utter madness, and not because they ran out of booze.
In Gags the Clown, Gags has already become an internet sensation, so it only makes sense that the film is presented with a found-footage style, featuring broadcasts from all over town. We first meet the exceptionally talented Lauren Ashley Carter as Heather, a reporter frustrated over being on “Gags Watch”, and what she sees as a waste of time following a nonsense story. Filling out the rest of this clown car is right-wing gun nut, Charles (Aaron Christensen), who has decided he’s had enough of Gags freaking people out and wants to shoot him on live video, asshole kids Tyler (Michael Gideon Sherry) and Chris (Squall Charlson), who have taken inspiration from Gags and want to play their own “pranks”, and the cops keeping watch over the city. Carter, as usual, steals the show with her lively energy, but don’t expect the other characters to wow you, because there just isn’t much to them.
In essence, I get why Gags the Clown features various stories around town, because Krause wants us to see the chaos and fear which one (man?) has created, and in some ways, that works, because there is a great sense of panic and confusion within the city. In using the found footage style though, balancing multiple storylines can be like juggling chainsaws: you’re bound to lose a limb, or two, and in Gags the Clown’s case, I consistently felt as if the film was losing track of the other stories, or forgetting about them entirely. Gags the Clown is all over the place when it comes to the narrative, throwing in numerous other scenes having nothing to do with the four central stories.
As far as Gags himself, there is some real potential with the character, but Gags the Clown isn’t doing enough to capitalize on that potential. The film starts off strong, opening on a trio of friends who have just pissed off Gags, and encounter him in a parking garage, leading to gallons of blood being splashed on screen (an element of gore that never returns). Like any good killer clown, Gags has some eerie tricks up his sleeves, such as balloons filled with white powder that drives people mad. Probably coke. No, definitely coke. And while the makeup design will remind you that clowns are Satan’s painted devils, Gags isn’t really doing much to scare the audience. In fact, I’m not sure he ever actually moves at all. At least Michael Myers has the occasional head tilt. A guy in a clown suit with his ass parked outside my house staring at me would be horrifying in real life, but in a film, the creep factor is short lasted and I eventually found myself wishing Gags would do something, anything, to establish some real personality, which the character is severely lacking.
I don’t want you to think the film itself isn’t unsettling, because it certainly has its moments. Krause often finds ways to put the found footage style to good use for maximum suspense. One scene that stands out involves a cop searching a dark theater with a flashlight as we view it all through her body cam, which had me on the edge of my seat waiting to throw my popcorn in the air at the inevitable Gags sighting. Occasionally, Gags the Clown forgets it’s a found footage film to try to up the suspense, throwing in non-diegetic music, which defeats the purpose of the in the moment found-footage aesthetic and pulls the curtain up on the fact that this is, in fact, only a movie, a big no-no in the sub-genre.
The truly frightening element of Gags the Clown, and where the film is at its strongest, isn’t in Gags himself, but in the theme of how far media and mass panic can influence a culture. While Gags was standing around and eventually boring me to painted on tears, his effect on the town was scaring the shit out of me. All over Green Bay, those who come into contact with Gags are cutting clown-smiles into their faces and disappearing, influenced by Gags appearances. The vigilante and prankster teens storyline depicts just how insane everyone has gone over the viral entity, with Heather and her crew working only to spread the panic. The whole thing is a devastating commentary on the influence of media, viral sensations and how badly our culture wants to capitalize on them for our own few minutes of fame. As a Chicago Bears fan, I always knew Green Bay was full of clowns, but this is next level.
Gags the Clown is a great concept, but stumbles around like a drunk party clown that has no idea where he is or even who he is. The film has some eerie moments and a clever ending that literally pops, but, as one message which Gags leaves on a wall in the film says, “the forgotten are no laughing matter”, and I don’t think we’ll be laughing over Gags the Clown come the end of the year.
Gags the Clown laughs its way onto VOD September 3rd through Doppelganger Releasing and Bloody Disgusting.
By Matt Konopka